I think I’m suffering from Internet Fatigue. Every day my Facebook and RSS feeds are filled with articles, videos, and images of Important Truths You Should Know. Everyone is clamoring in unison about global warming, women’s rights, gun laws, animal cruelty… The list goes on and on and on. All of these are important topics, yes, worth fighting for, definitely. But we’re all more or less hand-tied. Or lazy. Or simply trigger-happy with the Repost alternative. We fight the good fight from behind our keyboards, and we have become a swarm of voices shouting into cyberspace. Therefore what may have once been content of dubious reputation is now a steady stream of passionate opinions everted ALL IN CAPS-LOCK! Our own voice may get lost in the shuffle and tide of this sudden widespread activism, but that doesn’t worry me as much. What worries me is that, in the attempt to put in public display all the horrors we want to decry, we’re desensitizing our followers, friends, interlopers. We scroll down our timelines, allowing 2.5 seconds of attention for each entry, chuckling or nodding in agreement, hitting Repost, moving on. And the actual problems persist. Because everyone is now aware but they’re so saturated with content that very few people will actually DO something. It’s no one’s fault, really. Some have (and always had) the gumption to take action against the injustices of the world. Others are too exhausted or indifferent. It’s the way society has been constructed, and overturning this will take more than a blog post or a Facebook campaign. But we apparently started taking ourselves too seriously around the same time that hipsters leapt into the mainstream consciousness, and now instead of memes and Ain’t-It-Cool news, we have flooded our feeds with Actual Important Content. And it is all portrayed this way (“you will never believe…!” ) even if it isn’t of any real consequence. Maybe it’s time we stopped using the internet for Serious Adult Stuff and make it fun again, a way to connect with the ones we love, not a way to drive ourselves to despise them because you’re sick and tired of all their posts about racial disparity. Yes, I think these are important topics too. But having everyone shout about it at the same time will not make it more so.
Question to just about everyone out there, but particularly women: what do you respond when someone compliments you for your appearance, intelligence or merits? Do you say “thank you” and leave it at that? Or is that “thank you” followed by “but it’s just…”: just shooting down the compliment and yourself in the process?
At what point did we learn to become so critical of ourselves that we do it automatically, without giving it a second thought?
I’m pretty sure it’s not in the womb. When babies are born, they’re almost invariable considered “the cutest thing in the world”, and any criticism towards the child will only be met with horror.
Later on, as toddlers, we become aware of ourselves in the mirror early in our lives, but we don’t really stop to think about appearances in the beginning. It’s later. As we hone our powers of observation, we copy and mimic. It’s animal nature: adults are our models, and our survival instincts dictate that we follow suit in everything they do and say to ensure our own development. Girls learn from their mothers and other female role models in the family. Aunts, grandmothers, big sisters, cousins… And what we observe invariably leads to this: a female adult looking in the mirror and tearing herself down bit by bit. Hair, face, nose, eyes, chin, neck, breasts, arms, thighs, stomach … no parts are exonerated from this process of self-annihilation. We observe this. We copy this.
In the best of cases, this lesson of self-hate runs counter to what our parents tell us (you’re beautiful, you’re smart, your worth does not depend on others…) This is usually not the case. When I turned 8, my body started storing what they call “baby fat” (why “baby”? this is an ailment that plagues us in our puberty, more than a few years too late to be described as “baby” anything … ). Soon enough, the females in my family started treating my weight and appearance as a problem. They started marching in with food scales and Weight Watchers programs, grapefruits and yogurt, measuring tape and modeling classes… The tearing down of me was a coming-of-age ritual filled with criticism and self-hate.
This was a ritual that never let up. ‘Til the day she lost her memory to Alzheimers, my grandmother had a one and only topic of discussion whenever we met: my weight. At some point it was too low, then too high… I was never asked about my studies, my career, my interests. As a matter of fact, I was never asked anything. Every family reunion was an opportunity to pass judgement on me. Well, in our family, it is always an opportunity to pass judgement on one another. My mother meets with her sister (whom she hasn’t seen in over a year)? First and foremost topic when telling me about it: her weight. Same goes for any poor lost soul who may pass her on the street. Weight, clothes, hair, demeanor… all are torn down systematically by my mother and her kin. My sister and I have lived through this. No wonder our way of rebellion has been to not give a fuck.
But ours is close enough to a worst case scenario. What about the rest? The euphemism for the destruction of the female psyche and self-image: humility. We’re taught to never praise ourselves, lest we be thought of as conceited. Compliments and commendations should be met with a gentle rebuttal for the same reason. It all stems from I don’t know which fucked up Rules Book from the 50s, and it reeks of patronizing bullshit. We have assimilated this conviction so well, that we even shoot each other and ourselves down whenever we have the audacity of thinking something kind about ourselves. Case in point?
Me. Ninth grade. After P.E., girls would swarm around the one full-length mirror to apply makeup, gossip and examine themselves destructively in front of each other. You know the drill: “my thighs are too fat,” “my hair is so bleh,” “my shins are so skinny”… etc, ad nauseum. And yes, guys, these comments are a fishing pole for compliments. That’s the only way we have learned to actually get a little bit of positive feedback on ourselves. Of course, the cycle goes like “oh, no, your thighs are fine, but look at my stomach! it’s sooo flabby!” We profer a compliment and pour some more shit on ourselves, expecting others to take it upon themselves to build us up a little while they tear themselves down. We never take it upon ourselves. And if we do … I dared take it upon myself one day, when one of the girls asked me why I didn’t wear any makeup. My response: “I don’t like it. I’d rather let my natural beauty shine through.” The general reaction was mockery and derision. My own effort of loving myself a little was shot down collectively by the pack. I was brought down to my level, in a sense.
So it follows that there is no place in society for people with a healthy self-image. If we so much as insinuate that we entirely approve of ourselves, someone somewhere will inevitably try to challenge that. So our way of coping: beating them to the punch. Even the healthiest of egos will put themselves down over one tiny detail or another. We all do. This is what society expects from us.
Today I found this:
And I realized some of us DO notice the vicious cycle of self-hate taught upon us by our mothers, grandmothers and so on. “Never love yourself too much,” is the lesson. Akin to the shaming we go through regarding our own sexualities, masturbation, our yearning for more knowledge (if it is deemed sex- or age-inappropriate), etc. We are kept in line to fit in with society.
How about let’s not? How about we decide to fuck it all and start loving ourselves as we are? Fuck the media and their message that our bodies are not good enough, that thinking outside the box is undesirable, that deviating from the standards assigned to our sex is an aberration. Fuck that shit. And fuck them all: society, the media, the powers that be, our families, coworkers, friends… fuck EVERYONE for telling ME how much self-love is enough! How about we finally arrive to the conclusion that we’re worthy of ourselves more than anyone else will ever be? Be your own lover and admirer. Cherish yourself today.
Most people are obsessed with the notion of ‘being unique’. We look for ways to set ourselves apart from our peers, creating online personas via photos and shared media, letting the world know that we have our own personalities. The fact that everyone is doing this has led me to believe that even the weirdest of us has shared traits with a group of others, things that instead of setting us apart, draw us closer to belonging to a certain demographic. So I’ve set out to prove this point: I’m sharing here some of the most personal/offbeat/unheard-of details of my life. I’m pretty sure someone else has at least a similar story or two to share.
1) The day I met my wife (the official term of endearment between my ex-roommate–and one of my closest friends– and I) I was wearing pajamas. Funnily enough, I started taking pictures of her that same day!
2) Marriage is not a part of the plan I have mapped out for my life, but this was not always the case. I have been engaged twice in my life (coincidentally, both engagement rings turned out to be cheap pieces of tin). But I only made plans in the traditional sense for one. I was 16, and I wanted my wedding dress to be red and black, and I wanted to walk down the isle to the Imperial March. I wonder if any of his weddings (he’s had 2) turned out to be this awesome.
3) The worst falling out I’ve ever had was with my mother (we spent more than a year not speaking to each other). It was over the fact that she had read my diary, which I felt was a crass violation to my privacy. Five years later, I started keeping a public blog.
4) Back in 2004, I was ready to move out to North Carolina. Although truth was that I was running away from a very noxious relationship, I convinced myself and others that the actual reason was I had gotten fed up with the incestuous nature of the local social scene. Almost 10 years later, I’ve found that this incestuousness is what has made my social life so very fascinating.
5) The first cigarette I tried was a regular Winston. A single drag turned me off smoking for 4 years. I’ve never had a Winston cigarette since then.
6) I really like cold climates, but I cannot sleep in an air conditioned room. If I do, I wake up with a nasty case of allergies.
7) My first alcoholic drink was not beer. It was a sip of whiskey, and I was 4 years old. To this day, I hate the taste of whiskey.
8) The first time I celebrated Halloween, I decided to dress up as Darth Vader. I became thoroughly discouraged when I found out there was another kid in the party dressed up as a taller and much better executed Darth Vader. I went back home and switched the Darth Vader mask for a witch hat. I spent the rest of the night harassing the poor kid dressed as Darth Vader.
9) My parents built up my self confidence so well that I grew up with the conviction that I had been a great dancer and a great painter. Later on in life, I learned that I never had any rhythm and that my first art teacher complained to my parents because I had no talent. C’est la vie!
10) Even though my first doctor-and-patient game was with my (male) cousin, the first time I played husband-and-wife was with my (female) childhood friend. We were around 10 years old. I think we were both somewhat aware of what we were doing.
11) My brother started out his early adulthood in job as an interpreter. He’s got around 5 languages up his sleeve. I only have the two (English, Spanish) plus a smattering of French. My first career (for about 9 years) was as an IT professional, same thing I studied in college. He has a Bachelor degree in Philosphy and pretty much all the credits necessary for a minor in Modern Languages. In the last few months, I’m soon to finish my Masters degree in Translation and I have a job as a phone interpreter. He’s finally got a job he enjoys as an IT professional.
Sometimes I wish I had been born a boy.
When I turned 11 years old, I had my first boyfriend. Nothing incredibly serious, or at least not any threat to my livelihood (regardless of what my mother might have thought at the time.) He was best friends with the first boy I ever had a lasting crush on. In the process of trying to get closer to boy #1, I ended up being close pals with boy #2, until one day I realized boy #2 was way more interesting, charming and compatible with me. So the inevitable happened: little notes got exchanged in between classes, and we became “and item.” For three months I was living in a pink-cloud dream, like any preteen girl would. And then we broke up… and got back together the year after… and broke up again… and then something interesting happened: he came out to me. He told me he was gay, very gay. I don’t know why we ended up giving it yet another try as a couple. I’m pretty sure I wasn’t interested in changing his sexual preferences. As a matter of fact, it wasn’t about sex at all. I guess I just thought it would be cool to hang out with him for a while. This last time happened during my sophomore year in high school, and the breakup was so definitive, that we lost contact with each other for the following 7 years.
We reconnected in my early 20s, and the coolest moments of my youth ensued. And among the many things we talked about during our catch-up conversations, he said “If only you had been a boy, we would have been so happy!” And I agree. Our friendship is the longest one I have: 24 years and still going, still seeing each other whenever we can. We get along fabulously, and I’m pretty sure, just as he was, that if I had been born with XY chromosomes instead of XX, our story would have been different.
For a while now, I have been reminiscing about past romances, and I’ve noticed that a few of the other guys have also turned out to be gay. These are the ones, almost exclusively, with which I still keep contact. I’ve also noticed that, as of late, I’ve been more compelled to surround myself by people with flexible sexualities. The gay men I’ve met lately have been far more fascinating than any others I may have met before. Coincidence? Maybe. But there’s something about an alternative sexuality, a propensity to go against the grain of our conservative society, that makes me go gaga for people. It won’t come as a surprise then that, after having spent a year-and-change adapting to certain unexpected policies in my main (open) relationship, the latest crushes I’ve had are with gay or non-conventionally-sexual men. …of course, me being a girl and all that, this makes my chances of actually being reciprocated pretty close to zero.
So, sometimes I wish I had been born a boy. I know relationships are complicated no matter the sexual orientation, that “the grass is always greener…” etc. But given my current propensity to being caught in the webs of charm of gay men… well, it would have made things much more viable, huh?
But I have no regrets about being a girl. I like being a girl. Sometimes … And sometimes … Well, I guess that’s what makes me–my sexuality, my identity–not quite heterosexual, not quite bisexual, not quite polysexual, asexual, pansexual … queer? And maybe not quite, or maybe more than that? I’ve come to the realization that sexuality, just like all other aspects of humanity, is fluid, a scale of countless shades of gray (DAMN that fucking book!), changeable, mercurial, ephemeral. Labels be damned, I’ll just do my own thing.
PS: Nothing against women, of course… Truth be told, women intimidate me. I would make a cowardly lesbian, definitely single until death do me part from my herd of cats. Any psychoanalyst would have a holiday with me…
I never told my whole prom story (in blog form). I mentioned it in passing in one entry about three years ago, but I never went into detail about the whole tragedy of it. A few weeks ago we were talking about this among friends and I told them the whole story, and one of them – bless her soul! – said: “Everyone’s entitled to a prom night!”. Prom night was a myth I pursued after my own prom had passed. I insisted in participating in my brother’s and my sister’s proms, seeking to capture whatever I thought I had missed in my own. Some would call it pathetic, but I know I was desperate.
My brother’s prom came a few years after my own. I had already graduated from college and had one of those temporary office-clerk jobs after a disastrous stint at a computer systems corporation. I jumped at the opportunity of spending the night at my brother’s hotel room with my then-boyfriend, Oscar. It wasn’t half bad: we scrammed early off the dance floor and beelined to the hotel room, we ordered room service, we got drunk, we went to sleep, and I woke up a few hours later when my brother and his friends came in with a bottle of rum. I had my rum shot, and then it went up my nose. Epic. Hilarious. But not my prom.
My sister’s junior prom was epic too, for all the wrong reasons: I got a flat tire and I had to change it. Imagine that: a girl bedecked in a spectacular, long evening dress full of glitter and satin… changing her car’s tire with great effort, getting all sweaty and dirty (and bloody knuckles too). Yeah, some may see it as a sexy fetish. I won’t judge you, guys, but I beg to differ. Her senior prom was a disappointment too, although I did see one of my elementary school ex-classmates attending the same prom. Maybe this disorder isn’t so strange after all. The Prom Vampire Syndrome.
So what went so wrong that I had to go stealing my siblings’ prom? I’ll tell ya…
It all started on the planning phase, I suppose. Back in 1995, merengue was all the rage (I think it still sort-of is, you won’t find a party in Puerto Rico without its merengazo long set). The artists of the moment were Olga Tañón (complete with pre-op nose) and Tony Vega (where IS he now?), and the class president would simply NOT have prom night without ‘em. These merengue divas were fucking costly, so the budget had to give somewhere else. I’ll tell you where it got cuts: the yearbook (it never got printed. Instead, each of us got it in digital form in a CD-ROM… about 8 years later), and the location for the prom.
It’s important to think about the size of our graduating class: each grade was composed of 9 – 10 classrooms, each classroom had at least 20 students in it. Being conservative, the number would be 180… then take off about 10 (dropouts, people that chose not to go, etc) … 150 – 160? Okay, let’s go with the 150, it’s nice and round. Now add parents and prom date for each one of those students – let’s say, to compensate, that each student brought only one parent and one date – and you get the sheer number of 450 souls to attend the event.
Where was my prom being held?
Parque Julio Enrique Monagas: it was a fucking tiny room at the top of a fucking tiny mogote (flat-topped mountain). The place is perfect for a small wedding, a business meeting … something small. My class prom was not small. I’ve seen hotel ballrooms filled to the brim for a prom of a graduating class of 60 students. My class was NOT small. But they HAD to have Olga Tañón and Tony Vega. I hate merengue, so you can guess where that left me and like-minded people: very, VERY upset and resentful. I wasn’t gonna enjoy Olga Tañón! I definitely wasn’t gonna enjoy Tony Vega!!! Why did I have to lay low and accept this decision? Well, maybe ‘cuz I was way stupid!
Now, on the personal front, you’d think I had more control of the variables. I had a pretty clear idea of what I wanted as a prom dress:
(Something like) this, of course, paired with my dearest Doc-Marten-style boots… And I also had a very precise picture (as in: “I had a magazine cutout”) of the makeup job I wanted… minimalist, sweet, just a bit of attention to the eyes, nothing fancy. I was never a huge fan of makeup.
The gown was the first let-down. Money was short, this much I knew, but I was never told. So, when the time came to choose a prom gown, I was painfully aware of the price tags over anything else. I didn’t dare to go over $100, and I ended up choosing an $80 dress in the kind of slinky fabric I hate (you know the one! sticking to all the wrong bulges and seams…) It didn’t even look like a prom dress: slinky black little number, long but only down to my ankles, with a double row of silver-colored buttons down the front, with a ruched section of fabric in the middle, criss-crossed with thin bands of the same fabric … sort of going for classic-greek, but not quite getting there…
Then my mother thought it wise to get me some control top pantyhose AND some control-top panties …
oh, yes! The same! So you can guess how many muffin-tops I had … about a THOUSAND! And I couldn’t do anything about it because I only thought of trying the whole thing out the same fucking day of the prom! Stupid stupid me!
My mother also thought it would be a great idea to have our personal stylist (of that time, she’s long gone, thankfully! Dreadful woman!) do my makeup for me that day. To be honest, I thought it would be a great idea too – I’m less Michaelangelo and more Pollock with my makeup brushes. The woman arrives and I show her the magazine cutout I had saved for months (!!!), told her “I want something like this!” … and to this day, I remember her words “¡Ay, no! ¡Esos ojos de vaca cagona!” (translate for yourself, if you don’t speak Spanish, but … yes, something to the effect of a cow shitting … enjoy!) Then, she proceeded to do whatever the hell she wanted to my face.
And I swear, to this day, that the woman did what no other living creature has dared: she made it look like I was wearing another woman’s face as a translucent mask.
Nothing has ever been more unbecoming ever again.
(and let’s not even talk about The Hair, although, to be fair, I only acquired peace with my own hair within the last few years)
So, feeling completely unlike myself and very self-conscious about my general appearance, we set out to the prom. The first warning flag of All The Things That Would Go Wrong was the line for the elevator: long, serpentine… The ballroom was on top of the mountain, and the only way to get there was a single elevator. Now, why it was taking so long would be a surprise. We were first supposed to walk in one by one as a few words on each student would be read over the mic. I don’t know how in the world they were keeping the order straight: 150 students arriving randomly at any given moment would not make it easy. However, for me, this would be a highlight – or so I thought.
The wait was long and tortuous. My feet were killing me: no boots for me, my mother wouldn’t have it! So instead, I was wearing shiny black high heels. I have flat feet, so you can imagine. I never wear heels.
After more than an hour’s wait, we were finally at the top, albeit still at the end of a long line that ran from the ballroom all the way across a hallway that led to the elevator door. Then I saw it happen: the diva Olga Tañón whooshing past us in a fucking hurry. And then the line started to move.
As I pranced into the ballroom, I realized they had completely skipped the idea of reading anything other than the students’ names as they walked in, so it was “Diana Campo”, quick picture with my father, and that was that! Later on, I learned that Ms. Tañón was in such a hurry that she gave the ultimatum that she either started within 30 minutes, or she was gone (with full pay, of course!). So, any glory that dissenting students would have at least walking into the room was foregone in favor of this fucking bitch.
Moments later my father pulled me apart and told me my mother was feeling sick, so we had to go. I don’t blame her: the ballroom was small, its ceiling was quite low, and by 15 minutes in, I was feeling like fried fish under the spotlights. It wasn’t a nice place to be. I bid my adieus and went home for the night.
So, does everyone deserve a prom night? Maybe.
I was thinking about this today and I realized that maybe I should have taken better control of the variables I could control: the attire, the makeup, the hair. I didn’t have to accept what was being handed to me right off the bat.I could have gotten creative, like sewing the dress or look for bits and pieces off older garments from home or the Salvation Army. I could have practiced the hair and the makeup at home, maybe raid mom’s makeup box. I could have taken the whole thing into my hands and run with it. It was my prom, after all. If it were today, that’s what I’d do.
But then I remembered what was really going through our minds back then: mom was surviving cancer. Plain and simple. There was no time nor energy for anything other than that. My involvement in school issues was limited, competing with my other escape (boyfriend, sex…). The whole teenage-side of my life, I think, was sort of a cardboard facade waiting to peel off at any moment. It was gone long before my senior year, but I kept up with the motions of being a graduating brat. My heart wasn’t into it, though. Had I really been into it like a normal teenager, I would have gotten a $200 dress like my step-sister’s (2 years down the road):
… oh, wait, I did wear that one … to fuck some other boy in his car… jeez, I’m such a smutty fucker. Nah, I don’t deserve a prom. 😉