Chasing beautiful

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I’m eternally grateful for being woken up to the insane myth of societal beauty standards. Over the past year, I’ve immersed myself in learning — or better yet, unlearning— about the history of beauty standards, the patriarchal mood swings that dictate what is beautiful and acceptable, the toxicity of diet culture and the ways in which we are held down by our obsession with appearance. It’s a total scam. I’m speaking as a woman, of course, but this whole beauty/attractiveness scam hurts men too. It also must be noted that I’m speaking from a place of extreme privilege— I’m white, thin, able-bodied, gender-conforming and generally beauty-standard-conforming too. People with bodies that don’t carry this privilege face prejudice and violence as a daily experience.

In case you are also fed up with this bullshit and with feeling as thought your looks are the most important thing about you, allow me to share a few starter resources to dismantling this shit idea of beauty.

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One quick, readable primer I found is Beyond Beautiful by Anuschka Rees. She tackles constantly-changing beauty standards, female grooming expectations, oppressive beauty routines, uncomfortable clothes, Instagram woes, the myth of “strong is the new skinny”, pesky body shamers and all of the other things that hold us back.

“After years of being bombarded with societal messages about the importance of beauty, our self-worth barometers have started to overvalue one factor: our appearance. For many of us, how we feel about the way we look has become the deciding factor for how we feel about ourselves, our worth as a person, our life, everything. When we think we look good, we have confidence for days, but when we think we look bad, we feel defeated, and none of our other accomplishments matter.”

Rees brings some truth about loving our bodies… which is to say, cool if you do but it’s also okay if you don’t. We are all so much more than our bodies and we can still nourish and appreciate and respect our bodies even if we don’t love our cellulite or acne or belly. There! I said it. I don’t look at my stretch marks and think, “Oh what beautiful life-giving badges of courage and motherhood,” but I am trying to look at them and… not care much at all. To not think they are beautiful, not think they are disgusting and certainly not to think that they in any way define me or my worth.

“Obviously, the advice to love our body comes from a well-meaning place. But it's also misleading because it keeps women stuck on their mirror image by reinforcing the idea that their physical form is the gatekeeper to happiness. Yes, you should strive to cultivate respect and compassion for yourself, as a human being, and your body (including the way it looks) is a part of that. But if your goal is to be happy and feel confident, understanding that you are more than your body is miles more valuable than writing love letters to your individual body parts.”

Another article that caught my eye was “The Best Skin-Care Trick Is Being Rich” by Amanda Mull for The Atlantic. Because, yeah, it’s true.

Celebrities wouldn’t be as distractingly beautiful without dermatologists, estheticians, and the women behind the beauty counters at Bergdorf Goodman. You can drink as much water and wear as much sunscreen as you want, but the most effective skin-care trick is being rich.

Rich people can buy beauty, and not just in the form of obvious plastic surgery, but in all of the small and secret ways that money can buy you better skin and nutrition and time to spend on those things.

LA Johnson/nPr

LA Johnson/nPr

Finally, this piece from NPR’s Code Switch “Is Beauty In The Eyes Of The Colonizer?” by Leah Donnella drives home the innate connnection between white supremacy and societal beauty standards.

“Think about why that person is beautiful. Is it because of their perfectly white teeth? Their thick, shiny hair? The fact that their features conform perfectly to Western beauty norms?”

Donnella goes onto note that in our society, “beauty is a facet of power.” It’s not just about self-care or self-love, the perception of beauty and attractiveness and unlock spaces and opportunities while systematically denying that access to others. She notes, that “the body positivity movement and the fat-acceptance movements have also consistently pushed back on the idea that thin, young, white, able-bodied women are the epitome of beauty — or that beauty should be a precondition for respect to begin with.”

So, team, let’s stop chasing beauty so feverishly, yeah? Let’s stop skipping the pool party because we hate our bodies in bathing suits, let’s stop piling on makeup when we’d rather be fresh-faced, let’s stop thinking we have to conform to one specific, though ever-changing, ideal of beauty. Let’s unchain ourselves from that myth and reclaim our time. Choose which parts of beauty are fun for you or a creative outlet - maybe it’s your hair or nails or makeup or clothes - but then dump that beauty crap that doesn’t spark joy. And leave your good books, podcasts and Instagram accounts here so I can add to my anti-beauty-standard rant.

Next up: chasing skinny…

Nasty Women Read: A Book Club Roundup

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For a little more than a year, I facilitated a mostly online, sometimes-in-person, feminist book club. It started when I shared a link from somewhere about feminist books to read and then everyone on Facebook was like, “Yeah I'd be into that.” We rolled with it from June 2017 through November 2018 as an informal, sometimes forgetful and always low-key group. I deliberately let the group fizzle out at the end of last year, which is a major personal accomplishment because I am really slow to quit things that aren’t working for me. That’s an Enneagram Type 6 for you. But still! We read some great books and enjoyed some conversation and camaraderie through this exercise. I wanted to capture all of it here, for posterity.

The books that we read
(My top choices often lost in the monthly vote, and we also had a long list of books that we wanted to read but hadn’t gotten around to yet, but here’s what we did read together. My favorites are in bold.)

Art by val Barone

Art by val Barone

Our FB group also became a delightful repository of articles and recommendations, which I’ve rounded up and cataloged here as an archive for us all to enjoy.

Marriage, motherhood and relationships

  • “It’s Time To Get All The Shitty Men In America Fired” by Meg Keene (A Practical Wedding)

  • “Real Gender Equality Includes Femininity (and the Color Pink)” by Anne Thériault (Yes! Magazine)

  • “I Am the One Woman Who Has It All” by Kimberly Harrington (The New Yorker)

  • “Where do kids learn to undervalue women? From their parents.” by Darcy Lockman (The Washington Post)

  • “Does a More Equal Marriage Mean Less Sex” by Lori Gottlieb (The New York Times Magazine)

  • “Are Your Joint Finances as Feminist As You Think?” by Meg Keene (A Practical Wedding)

  • “How to Raise a Feminist Son” by by Claire Cain Miller and Illustrations by Agnes Lee (The New York Times)

  • “When I Became A Mother, Feminism Let Me Down” by Samantha Johnson (HuffPost)

  • “In Sweden’s Preschools, Boys Learn to Dance and Girls Learn to Yell” by Ellen Barry (The New York Times)

  • “Holiday Magic Is Made By Women. And It's Killing Us.” by Gemma Hartley (HuffPost)

  • “Women Aren't Nags—We're Just Fed Up” by Gemma Hartley (Harper’s Bazaar)

  • “Why all parents should care about kids and gender” by Julie Scagell (The Washington Post)

  • Video: “50/50” by Garfunkel and Oates (YouTube)

  • “Men Dump Their Anger Into Women” by Emma Lindsay (Medium)

Violence against women and #MeToo

  • “Kavanaugh Is the Face of American Male Rage” by Jessica Valenti (Medium)

  • “Brave Enough to Be Angry” by Lindy West (The New York Times)

  • “Why Are Men So Violent?” by JR Thorpe (Bustle)

  • “Aziz, We Tried to Warn You” by Lindy West (The New York Times)

  • “We Talk About Women Being Raped, Not Men Raping Women” by Valentina Zarya (Jackson Katz, PhD)

  • “I Have Been Raped by Far Nicer Men Than You” by Natalie Degraffinried (Very Smart Brothas)

  • “Paying to stay safe: why women don’t walk as much as men” by Talia Shadwell (The Guardian)

  • Video: “Baby It’s Cold Outside” by Lydia Liza and Josiah Lemanski (YouTube)

  • Podcast: “What’s Wrong With Men?” (To The Best of Our Knowledge)

  • “The Harmless-Sounding Phrase That Is Terrible for All Women” by Karen Rinaldi (Time)

Women’s bodies and health

  • “My wedding was perfect – and I was fat as hell the whole time” by Lindy West (The Guardian)

  • “Miss America Ends Swimsuit Competition, Aiming to Evolve in ‘This Cultural Revolution’” by Matthew Haag and Cara Buckley (The New York Times)

  • “Whatever’s Your Darkest Question, You Can Ask Me.” by Lizzie Presser (Type Investigations)

  • “Nature, Nurture, And Our Evolving Debates About Gender” (Hidden Brain by NPR)

  • Song: “'Thunder Thighs': The Summer Anthem That Celebrates Every Woman” by Samantha Balaban and Karen Gwee (NPR Music)

  • “The Troubling Thing About the “Fit Mom” Instagram Community” by Rebecca Onion (Slate)

  • “The Future of Personhood Nation” by the Editorial Board (The New York Times)

At work

  • “Dear Sheryl, Let’s Stop Giving The Patriarchy A Thumbs Up” by Natalie Shell (Medium)

  • “2 women entrepreneurs who invented a fake male cofounder say acting through him was 'like night and day'“ by Libby Kane (Business Insider)

  • “Donald Trump Is Not Homosexual, But He Is Definitely Homosocial” by Michelangelo Signorile (Huffington Post)

  • “A Study Used Sensors to Show That Men and Women Are Treated Differently at Work” by Stephen Turban, Laura Freeman and Ben Waber (Harvard Business Review)

  • “These cartoons hilariously describe the double standards women face at work every day” by Emily Baines (Hello Giggles)

  • “Poll: Discrimination Against Women Is Common Across Races, Ethnicities, Identities” by Joe Neel (NPR)

  • “Bill Maher Is Stand-up Comedy’s Past. Hannah Gadsby Represents Its Future.” by Matt Zoller Seitz (Vulture)

  • “Meg White Is The 21st Century's Loudest Introvert” by Talia Schlanger (NPR Music)

  • Video: “The Mushroom Hunters: Neil Gaiman’s Feminist Poem About Science, Read by Amanda Palmer” (Brain Pickings)

Other good reads

  • “How Feminist Dystopian Fiction Is Channeling Women’s Anger and Anxiety” by Alexandra Alter (The New York Times)

  • “Emma González Kept America in Stunned Silence to Show How Quickly 17 People Died at Parkland” by Katie Reilly (Time)

  • “Feminist Fairy Tales” by Laura Olin (The Hairpin)

Although I’ve let this book club meet its natural and graceful end, I’ve doubled down on my personal reading (largely as fuel for my personal writing, but also to maintain a sense of self). I actively log my reading over at Goodreads, if you’d like to find me there, and am thoroughly enjoying an ongoing “buddy read” with my best friend Alex. It’s like a book club but better: it’s just two people, so book selections are easy and the chat is informal and fun and unscheduled. We synchronize our library requests and send each other Kindle books to read. It’s lovely. You know I still have a weakness for book clubs though.

Oh the unspeakable visions of Kerouac

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The name of this site and subsequently-named Insta handle come from Jack Kerouac’s “Belief & Technique for Modern Prose”, where he shares his list of essentials for writing. In this 100 Days of Writer’s Block, I’ve been trying to bust through some closed doors of the mind. Closed doors like “Who the hell are you to write? You have nothing interesting to say.” And then! I’m reminded of all of the unspeakable, beautiful and vital visions in each of our minds. I’d love nothing more than for all of you to start writing too. I’m deeply curious— maybe too curious— about the visions of the individual. I’m also deeply grateful to live in time when self-publishing is so easy, inexpensive and accessible. Otherwise I’d be handing out written essays in the town square all day and that sounds exhausting. Although… wait. Should I start a ‘zine? I think I should start a ‘zine.

“Beliefs & Technique for Modern Prose”
by Jack Kerouac, published in The Portable Jack Kerouac, edited by Ann Charters
(I noted some of my favorites)

  1. Scribbled secret notebooks, and wild typewritten pages, for yr own joy

  2. Submissive to everything, open, listening

  3. Try never get drunk outside yr own house

  4. Be in love with yr life

  5. Something that you feel will find its own form

  6. Be crazy dumbsaint of the mind

  7. Blow as deep as you want to blow

  8. Write what you want bottomless from bottom of the mind

  9. The unspeakable visions of the individual

  10. No time for poetry but exactly what is

  11. Visionary tics shivering in the chest

  12. In tranced fixation dreaming upon object before you

  13. Remove literary, grammatical and syntactical inhibition

  14. Like Proust be an old teahead of time

  15. Telling the true story of the world in interior monolog

  16. The jewel center of interest is the eye within the eye

  17. Write in recollection and amazement for yourself

  18. Work from pithy middle eye out, swimming in language sea

  19. Accept loss forever

  20. Believe in the holy contour of life

  21. Struggle to sketch the flow that already exists intact in mind

  22. Dont think of words when you stop but to see picture better

  23. Keep track of every day the date emblazoned in yr morning

  24. No fear or shame in the dignity of yr experience, language & knowledge

  25. Write for the world to read and see yr exact pictures of it

  26. Bookmovie is the movie in words, the visual American form

  27. In praise of Character in the Bleak inhuman Loneliness

  28. Composing wild, undisciplined, pure, coming in from under, crazier the better

  29. You’re a Genius all the time

  30. Writer-Director of Earthly movies Sponsored & Angeled in Heaven

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I first met Jack Kerouac in the summer. I was in high school, working a summer job with the school district and came home each afternoon to read On the Road and lay in the sun. He stayed with me through college, where I hung a disturbing poster of him in my freshman dorm room (apologies to my roommate) and spent a fair amount of time writing bad poetry. I couldn’t get enough Kerouac and soon the book Dharma Bums took over as my touchstone. Sometime in my junior year, a fellow lost Beat poet lent me a copy of Minor Characters by Joyce Johnson and it opened my eyes even more to his world and, importantly, to a woman’s perspective of that world. Kerouac provided my first encounter with the pain of loving someone’s art even though I had my misgivings about him as a person.

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Years later, I read Big Sur while sitting on the porch of a yurt in Big Sur eating a California avocado with a Napa red wine. It’s an afternoon I remember well even though it was nearly six years ago. I found that particular book to be nearly incomprehensible but loved the moment all the same.

I think I’ll undertake the risky adventure of re-reading a bit of Kerouac soon. I’m eager to see whether they still live in my heart and imagination or, instead, if they’ve lost their charm and relevance for me. It’s sort of like when people warn you not to meet your heroes. These books were my heroes, and I’m nervous to meet them now in between loads of laundry and PBS Kids and a mortgage and juice boxes. Will J.K. be too bro-y for me now? Let’s find out.

Letters to a young mother

When I was pregnant, I read a wonderful collection called Great with Child:  Letters to a Young Mother. It's a series of letters from the author Beth Ann Fennelly to her newly pregnant friend, and they are exactly the type of letters that a pregnant woman needs. She writes about the mundane, the ridiculous, the serious and the beautiful. She shares the heartbreak of her miscarriage and the experience of her daughter's birth and first days with such jaw-dropping perfection that, on more than one occasion, I had to set the book down and walk away in tears, with laughter, or both.

Here are a few of my favorite passages, excluding her wonderful rallying cry for mamas going into labor that I won't ruin for you.

On becoming a mother

"You'll exchange independence for the benefits of community, the needing and being needed. Fo you will be needed as well; a new mother and child are a powerful renewing force."

On feeling deeply

"You feel more deeply. You become capable of a raw, scary fullness of emotion that tenderizes the hardened muscles of the heart. And it endangers you. Because you feel for other people's suffering more than you used to, especially for the suffering of children, as if the love you bear for your child is so outsized that it can't be contained but splashes out into the world, your salty tears brimming the salty oceans... Your new sensitivity is a strength, and you should see it that way."

On babies and the passage of time

"Truly, babies are hyphenated-- they are endearing-exasperating; they are amusing-annoying. But the phases go so quickly that nothing is unbearably bad (or good) for long. That's why every phase is so bittersweet..

...so their infancy passes in a wave of nostalgia that swells and swells but never crests, never recedes."

Goodness, that last quote is exactly right, isn't it? If you're pregnant, or have a young child, please read this book. You can borrow my dog-eared copy with underlines and exclamation points in the margin, if you'd like.

Cookbooks lately

A good cookbook is a treasure. I love scouring food blogs and Pinterest as much as you do, and in our kitchen you'll often find us hunched over the laptop consulting the latest bookmarked recipe. But holding a book, whether brand new or covered in food stains, and flipping through pages of recipes and menus and little notes about preparation... well, that's something entirely different. I don't read cookbooks on my Kindle. No, I prefer to flip through the pages with my hands covered in flour and something bubbling behind me on the stove.

Here are three books that have been in heavy rotation recently.

The Heart of the Plate: Vegetarian Recipes for a New Generation by Mollie Katzen. You all know Mollie, right? She's the queen of delicious yet simple plant-based food. I can't get enough of her recipes and her writing. She wrote a book called Vegetable Dishes I Can't Live Without and it's a knock-out classic. I'd been eyeing this at our local co-op one day, thumbing through its pages and fantasizing about all of the new cooking it would inspire me to do and! lo and behold, it found its way under our little Christmas tree this year. Husband knows me well.

Moosewood Restaurant Daily Special by the Moosewood Collective. Mollie was part of the original Moosewood Collective, but I'll leave this one in its own category. This one was also a Christmas gift, this time from the Doc, and it is extra special because it shares all of the beautiful daily soups, stews, salads and extras from the famous Moosewood Restaurant in Ithaca, New York. And actually, I've never been there so it seems I should put that on my 2014 road trip list.

Whole Grains for a New Generation by Liana Krissoff. I'm still loving this one from a recent round of the FSC Book Club. Lots of hearty recipes with new grains (actually, they're mostly ancient grains, but you know) and lots of flavor. She shares an oaty biscuit type recipe that's weird and sublime and a host of other side dishes, entrees and extras that have become regulars.

What cookbooks are on your kitchen counter these days? I'd love recommendations!