My Body Is Art; You Cannot Ruin Me

My Body Is Art; You Cannot Ruin Me

A love letter.
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I do not tolerate catcalling, discrimination, or oppression. That is to say, I have no problem retaliating against those who oppress me. However, I am no ice-woman, with the ability to freeze bigots before harsh words can escape their mouths. The words still come, they still sting, I just choose to fight back.

I was leaving work several days ago when an older gentlemen approached me. My guard instantly goes up whenever I'm approached by an older white man, but I was still at work, so I painted my face with feigned optimism and agreed to speak with him. He told me he is fascinated by American culture. I wasn't quite sure what he meant. This is when he asked the question.

"Do your parents care that you look like that?"

I felt my voice rupture in my throat. My knuckles turning white; ash.

"What do you mean?"

I instantly became aware of my pink hair wrapped into a printed head scarf, my visible tattoos, heavily powdered face, and large septum piercing.The aspects of my appearance that reflect my cosmic insides, that decorate my body and reflect my spirit.

"The nose ring, the hair, all the tattoos. Do your parents care?"

I felt myself becoming uneasy. Aware that I was still in my workplace, speaking to a stranger. Knowing that if I were on the street, I would not tolerate this blatant disrespect towards my body and appearance by a man who I'd never met. My stomach churned with all the lives I wish I'd lived, all the people I wanted to shrink myself into who were not as big of a target for ridicule.

"No, I don't think they care."

I withered under the weight of what I wanted to say. To bellow at his right to question my appearance. His white misogyny that was never considered radical or different.

"To be honest, I'm very intelligent and driven, and I don't think my appearance changes that."

I wondered why I cringed complimenting myself in the face of someone who had just degraded me. I was not brought up to boast my talents, skills, or accomplishments, but I felt like I had to prove my worth to this man who'd only based me on my outward appearance.

"How old are your parents? What do they think about this?"

I gulped, recalling all of the arguments I'd had with my mother over my nose piercings, my affinity to inking visible places on my skin, and how my hair looked much better as a natural dark brown.

I gulped the powder residue on my lips, the purple lipstick, the bold, overdrawn eyebrows. My face beneath the makeup splotched with constellations of scars and discoloration. My harsh contour a sharp reminder of the tongue beneath my cheek.

"My parents are in their fifties."

I don't know why I continued to answer his questions, satisfy his curiosity. I felt like I could not get up, could not escape his bigger, whiter, older grasp around my tongue. His assumption that only young people, young parents would support a child who wanted to look so "obscene".

"Interesting. I'm fascinated by how parents raise their kids these days."

My fists crumbled. My inner cheek bleeding from a hard bite.

I remembered the early high school girl who barely ate to keep her body bony. Who bleached her hair and clipped in weave, shrinking into dresses that exposed her inner thighs. Her legs the fragile limbs of trees. Her tongue a leaf, afraid to hold weight. The swallowing of air instead of food, the loss of appetite, the hollow.

I am heavier now. Fifty pounds, scarred, stretched, ridged with mountains of cellulite. My skin has saved me from every time I tried to destroy it. My skin has held together the avalanche, the sandstorm, the grief. I decorate myself with jewelry and color and makeup and tattoos and I look lived in. I have never been more content with this beautiful, broken body.

I thanked the old white man, and walked away.

I did not retaliate, did not claim my body as a holy space, did not cast away his hyper-masculinity with my earth shattering body positivity. I said nothing. I answered his questions. I stayed silent while his words stung my insides.

It is impossible for women to always remain strong in the face of what society has taught us to succumb to. The male gaze. The opinions of others. The standard of beauty of being numb, of being holy, of being untouched and unpierced and unaltered. The "natural". The silenced. The good-behavior-cut-tongue-short-breath-weakness.

My parents taught me to listen and respect elders. I taught myself not to sacrifice my worth to endure toxic masculinity and disrespect that threatens my spirit. I am unapologetically unique, I will not change. I am not afraid to question anyone who threatens the security of my palace heart. Sometimes, my tongue will be too heavy and I will not find the words to say. In those times, I forgive myself.

If you dislike my body, I understand. Everyone has a different opinion of art. I will continue to live in my it, decorated like a Pharaoh's tomb. I am magic, I am dawned in grace. I am nineteen years of rebirth, of growth, of shatter. I am more than the colors I paint myself with. I am more than the words that have haunted me. I am more than the dirt, than the grief, than the hurt.

To My Body: I am sorry for holding my tongue when I should have spoken. I promise I love you. I promise I'm still here.

Cover Image Credit: Selma Wo

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To The Friends I Won't Talk To After High School

I sincerely hope, every great quality I saw in you, was imprinted on the world.
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Hey,

So, for the last four years I’ve seen you almost everyday. I’ve learned about your annoying little brother, your dogs and your crazy weekend stories. I’ve seen you rock the awful freshman year fashion, date, attend homecoming, study for AP tests, and get accepted into college.

Thank you for asking me about my day, filling me in on your boy drama and giving me the World History homework. Thank you for complimenting my outfits, laughing at me presenting in class and listening to me complain about my parents. Thank you for sending me your Quizlets and being excited for my accomplishments- every single one of them. I appreciate it all because I know that soon I won’t really see you again. And that makes me sad. I’ll no longer see your face every Monday morning, wave hello to you in the hallways or eat lunch with you ever again. We won't live in the same city and sooner or later you might even forget my name.

We didn’t hang out after school but none the less you impacted me in a huge way. You supported my passions, stood up for me and made me laugh. You gave me advice on life the way you saw it and you didn’t have to but you did. I think maybe in just the smallest way, you influenced me. You made me believe that there’s lots of good people in this world that are nice just because they can be. You were real with me and that's all I can really ask for. We were never in the same friend group or got together on the weekends but you were still a good friend to me. You saw me grow up before your eyes and watched me walk into class late with Starbucks every day. I think people like you don’t get enough credit because I might not talk to you after high school but you are still so important to me. So thanks.

With that said, I truly hope that our paths cross one day in the future. You can tell me about how your brothers doing or how you regret the college you picked. Or maybe one day I’ll see you in the grocery store with a ring on your finger and I’ll be so happy you finally got what you deserved so many guys ago.

And if we ever do cross paths, I sincerely hope you became everything you wanted to be. I hope you traveled to Italy, got your dream job and found the love of your life. I hope you have beautiful children and a fluffy dog named Charlie. I hope you found success in love before wealth and I hope you depended on yourself for happiness before anything else. I hope you visited your mom in college and I hope you hugged your little sister every chance you got. She’s in high school now and you always tell her how that was the time of your life. I sincerely hope, every great quality I saw in you, was imprinted on the world.

And hey, maybe I’ll see you at the reunion and maybe just maybe you’ll remember my face. If so, I’d like to catch up, coffee?

Sincerely,

Me

Cover Image Credit: High school Musical

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Terrors Behind "Toddlers & Tiaras" - Beauty Pageants Need To Go!

Why Honey Boo Boo is not the girl we should be idolizing...

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Honey Boo Boo is famous for her extravagant persona, extreme temper tantrums, overwhelming attitude, and intense sassiness. All of these qualities are shared by many other young girls who participate in beauty pageants - not just in "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo" but also in TLC's notorious "Toddlers & Tiaras," a show that depicts the horrors of little girls who have dedicated their childhood to winning the crown.

These shows, and the pageants they glorify do nothing but force girls to grow up too quickly, send negative messages to viewers and participants and pose health risks for the girls involved.

Therefore, beauty pageants for young girls should be abolished.

The hypersexualization that takes place in these pageants is staggering. Not only are young girls' minds molded into having a superficial view on beauty, but they are also waxed, spray-tanned, given wigs, retouched in pictures, injected with Botox and fillers, and painted with fake abs and even breasts.

Sexy is the goal, not cute. Girls of ages 2-12 wear skimpy clothing, accentuating only their underdeveloped bodies. A 4-year-old girl on "Toddlers and Tiaras" once impersonated Dolly Parton with fake breasts, another dressed as Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman (so basically, a prostitute), and another even pretended to smoke a cigarette to look like Sandy from Grease.

In Venezuela, people are so obsessed with pageants that they send their daughters to "Miss Factories," to train them to win. At these factories, underage girls undergo plastic surgery and hormone therapy to delay puberty in attempts to grow taller. In addition, they often get mesh sewn onto their tongues so that they are physically incapable of eating solid food. This idea of taking horrific measures to look slimmer is not unique to Venezuela. A former Miss USA explained that she would "slather on hemorrhoid ointment, wrap herself up with Saran wrap, and run on a treadmill with an incline for 30 minutes to tighten her skin and waist up." Many countries, including France and Israel have banned child beauty pageants because it is "hypersexualizing." Why has the US yet to follow in their footsteps?

Additionally, the pageants strip their young contestants of a childhood by basically putting them through harsh child labor. Oftentimes, girls as young as 18 months old participate in pageants. There is no way that a girl under 2 years old has the capacity to decide for herself that she wants to participate in a beauty pageant. Not to mention, education often takes a backseat in pageant girls' lives as long practice sessions interfere with sleep and homework. This causes long-term distress for the contestants, including widespread unemployment for former pageant girls.

Moreover, these pageants tie self-worth and self-esteem to attractiveness. They teach girls that natural beauty and intelligence are not enough, when in actuality they should be doing the opposite. In fact, 72% of pageant girls hire coaches to train girls to be more "attractive."

Finally, these pageants pose potent health risks for the girls competing. Not only do intense rehearsals interfere with their sleep cycles, but they are also impacted by the harmful methods taken to keep them awake. One example is Honey Boo Boo's "go go juice" - AKA a mixture of Mountain Dew and Red Bull. She is known for drinking this continuously throughout pageant days to stay awake and energetic - but the health risks associated with the drinks, let alone for such a young girl, are completely ignored.

And, the future health problems associated with pageantry cannot be looked past. Participating in beauty pageants as kids leads to eating disorders, perfectionism, depression - in fact, at least 6% suffer from depression while competing. "The Princess Syndrome," as Psychology Today calls it relates to a small study published in 2005 that showed that former childhood beauty pageant contestants had higher rates of body dissatisfaction. This sense of dissatisfaction can so easily be translated to more severe mental and physical health issues, including depression, anxiety, and eating disorders. The average BMI (Body Mass Index) of a Beauty Contestant in the US in 1930 was 20.8, which is universally in the middle of the "healthy" range. In 2010, it was 16.9, which is considered underweight for anyone.

So, despite the entertainment these shows and pageants provide, they should most definitely be stopped due to the immense amount of issues they cause for those involved and those who watch.

Although Honey Boo Boo is (sadly) considered one of America's sweethearts, her experience in pageantry has certainly not been a positive influence in her life nor in the lives of her fans - and this is the case for nearly all young pageant girls.

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