Every once in a while I will experience something that causes a shift in my perception of the world around me. These thoughts or sentiments or realizations tend to stick around for a very long time. Some of these things are cruel and have seared into my memory, some have been freeing, and some are realizations about myself or my behavior. All of these experiences have felt huge, accompanied by some sort of inspiration, awe or groking.
Here are a few examples:
Cruelty: As someone who has struggled with body image for my entire life, I will never forget that horrible phrase “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels”, fuckyouverymuchKateMoss. When I heard this bullshit statement I truly understood that there are people in the world who will never ever EVER understand what it’s like to be overweight in this society, and that they would never accept or respect people who are overweight – that they would never accept or respect me.
Freeing: When I was young I wanted to rollerblade down a huge steep hill in our neighborhood. I stood at the top, paralyzed with fear. I knew that if I tripped, it would hurt a lot, or I could bust my skull open, or I might fall into traffic (it was a neighborhood street without much traffic, but still!). As I was staring down that hill I suddenly had this feeling that it was going to be okay. I unclenched my muscles and took deep breathes and was amazed to feel a calm come over me. I pushed off and sailed triumphantly down three blocks of pavement, gently coasting to a stop at the bottom of the hill. In that moment I realized that – in some situations – it is possible to control my fear, that it is an emotion that can sometimes be tempered by consciously trying to relax my body, and that I perform so much better when I’m not gripped by fear.
Self-Awareness: When I first learned about microaggressions, and especially when I learned that I was subconsciously perpetrating some of the behaviors that can be characterized as microagression, I was floored. I began to try to recognize these behaviors – in myself and others – and was floored again when I realized how ingrained they are in so many aspects of my life.
So yeah…life-changing moments.
Here’s the newest one:
I recently read an article that came my way via a Facebook group. The group is closed, so I won’t elaborate – but I am grateful to the person who posted it. Thank you. The article is called How to Talk to Little Girls, and it’s from a group blog called LatinaFatale. The blog doesn’t have much in the way of new content, sadly (sadly because it is written by “progressive Latina feminists (and their allies)”, which is definitely a blog I’d love to read). How to Talk to Little Girls was written back in 2011. But discovering new old content is part of the beauty of the internet, right?
Here are a few excerpts:
Little Maya was all curly brown hair, doe-like dark eyes, and adorable in her shiny pink nightgown. I wanted to squeal, “Maya, you’re so cute! Look at you! Turn around and model that pretty ruffled gown, you gorgeous thing!”
But I didn’t. I squelched myself. As I always bite my tongue when I meet little girls, restraining myself from my first impulse, which is to tell them how darn cute/ pretty/ beautiful/ well-dressed/ well-manicured/ well-coiffed they are.
Teaching girls that their appearance is the first thing you notice tells them that looks are more important than anything. It sets them up for dieting at age 5 and foundation at age 11 and boob jobs at 17 and Botox at 23.
What’s missing? A life of meaning, a life of ideas and reading books and being valued for our thoughts and accomplishments.
That’s why I force myself to talk to little girls as follows.
“Maya,” I said, crouching down at her level, looking into her eyes, “very nice to meet you.”
“Nice to meet you too,” she said, in that trained, polite, talking-to-adults good girl voice.
“Hey, what are you reading?” I asked, a twinkle in my eyes. I love books. I’m nuts for them. I let that show.
Her eyes got bigger, and the practiced, polite facial expression gave way to genuine excitement over this topic.
Not once did we discuss clothes or hair or bodies or who was pretty. It’s surprising how hard it is to stay away from those topics with little girls, but I’m stubborn.
So, one tiny bit of opposition to a culture that sends all the wrong messages to our girls. One tiny nudge towards valuing female brains. One brief moment of intentional role modeling. Will my few minutes with Maya change our multibillion dollar beauty industry, reality shows that demean women, our celebrity-manic culture? No. But I did change Maya’s perspective for at least that evening.
The entire article made me realize that this cute overload response is EXACTLY the way that I usually say hello to young girls. There’s absolutely no good reason for this in the course of normal introductions. Every situation is unique, of course, and I don’t advocate never telling someone that they look pretty in their dress. But maybe I’ll start waiting to bring that up until after we have a chance to talk about more important issues, like books and drawings and other “intelligent conversation that respects her brain”, as LatinaFatale puts it.