It is not totally rare that I am moved to tears, but this time it was for a good reason. I was standing in a sleek little gallery on the Lower East Side, music beating in the background, as I looked at an enormous photograph of a little black girl holding the image of a white model’s face over her own. The colors were vivid, almost intense, but simple. The girls skinny legs and arms jutted. She was sitting, clutching the other face against her own. It had been torn from a magazine. It was a makeup ad. The girl was a Ugandan orphan. I wanted to peek under her mask and see her real face, but she wouldn’t let me.
But anyway—I met Gloria in person for the first time, and she was wearing a leather jacket and being unassuming and quietly awesome and badass, and her photos made me cry.
And then that one, the one of the girl holding the pale face up to cover her own, dark one, made me suddenly think of this Op-Ed I read in the New York Times the other day. One that keeps bothering me. One that I don’t know how to talk about because it is by a black woman, talking about black women, and I am a pale, Jewish woman who is probably not fit to comment.
On March 6-8, 2015, the Center for the Study of Men and Masculinities (CSMM) will host the International Conference on Masculinities: Engaging Men and Boys for Gender Equality, in New York City. The Conference is timed to immediately precede the meeting of the Commission of the Status of Women (CSW) at the United Nations. Twenty years after the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, the CSW will hold its annual two-week meeting, March 9-27, 2015, in New York. Thousands of participants from UN agencies, NGOs and national governments will discuss the progress made towards greater gender equality over the past two decades.
Those twenty years have also witnessed unprecedented efforts to engage men around gender equality. The CSMM conference aims to bring together more than 500 activists, practitioners, and academic researchers from around the world who are working to engage men and boys in fulfilling the Platform for Action adopted by the CSW in Beijing. It will review the success of programs to engage men and boys, share research-in- progress, discuss new and possible policy initiatives, and chart research needs for the future.
The Center for the Study of Men and Masculinities was established at Stony Brook University (SUNY) in 2013. The Center is dedicated to interdisciplinary research on boys, men, masculinities and gender. Its mission is to bring together researchers with practitioners and activists to develop and enhance social reform projects focusing on boys and men.
The cheap shots just keep coming and a popular target these days is Hillary Clinton. All the talk of a possible 2016 presidential campaign is sending her opponents into a frenzy. As if being called too unattractive to be in the public wasn't enough now she's accused of being incapable of holding a conversation let alone office because of a tumble she took some years ago. Republican father-figure Karl Rove and America's angriest rich guy Rush Limbaugh have been spinning tales about the state of Clinton's health amidst demanding that she address rumors of a sustained brain injury. To add insult to 'alleged' injury, Clinton's recent People magazine cover has become fodder for media speculation about her aging body and apparent need for a walker. Oh, and there's more. Thanks to Drudge Report there was some pretty unforgiving online images of Clinton's head photoshopped onto the body of a visibly old, half naked woman à la 16th century oil painting style. The lady-berating doesn't end there.
"You know, there are men at the bar down the street," she said over the dull hum of music and drunken Friday night chatter at a local lesbian bar. After responding politely that despite my long hair, red lipstick, and floral skirt, I was indeed looking for women, she repeated "But there are men there. Nice men. Do you like men?"
I wish I could say this was the only time that my identity has been called into question on the basis of my choice of dress. But in fact, this happens to me more often than not. From men in muscle tees who feel that it is their godly duty to ask me out while I'm on a date with a woman to the patrons who are genuinely confused by my presence at a lesbian bar, it's hard to navigate a world where feminine defaults you as straight. More insidiously, feminine women tend to be mistrusted, as if our flowing skirts and flushed cheeks signal our submission to the patriarchal world.
I never thought I’d be the girl that needed a guy to tell her she’s beautiful. To make her feel socially capable. To clarify that she’s a good person. That she’s worth knowing. I also never thought that I had an eating disorder. I truly believed that my agonizing, insurmountable battle against food came as a side effect of womanhood. The never-ending diet, the extreme guilt of a binge. It all made my feel like I was hanging off the edge with my knuckles turning white.
Freshman year was a roller coaster of the highest highs and the lowest lows I had ever experienced. Each moment allowed me to discover more and more of who I was, and I loved the girl that was emerging. The struggle made me stronger. But an element of self-doubt also made itself a home in my inner dialogue, proving to be a new and unanticipated stumbling block as I wandered through my new environment.
Get help now. Please don’t wait for the traumatic experience that’s coming to make you realize you how far gone you are. Don’t wait for the screaming and the crying and the sense of purposeless to realize that you have stopped feeling. Feeling anything but the fixation. The obsession.
Right now, as you take your first steps on this campus, you have the traits ingrained in you, the habits and cravings, control and coping mechanisms. You will reach for them consciously and unconsciously. The thinking has already infiltrated your daily thoughts. But for the time being, you also have somewhat of a separateness from it. You and it have not become one and the same. Don’t wait. Don’t wait for the day two years from now-- you couldn’t stop thinking about how uncomfortable you felt in your goddamn bikini, and how hard you were going to run when you got back to the gym-- when then that sound pierced the air.
When the clock struck midnight and the calendar turned to 2014, I made myself a promise. The next twelve months of my life would be different. At the start of each New Year prior, I had resolved to lose weight, to get healthier, to look better. Then, I’d find myself in a mess of self-despair every time I felt like I failed. Having grown tired of this mindset and tired of beating myself up, it occurred to me that I needed to change my approach, and so my resolution for 2014 would be to focus on self-acceptance.
Gender scholars have long criticized the fashion media for glorifying emaciation and contributing to body-image and eating problems. However, they have been relatively quiet about how medical science and news reporting may contribute to the very same problems. This is surprising given a long tradition of feminist critiques of medical authority in other areas. What’s Wrong with Fat? fills this gap by examining how medical research, public health campaigns, and news reports contribute to a “cult of thinness.”
Indeed, the United States, we are told, is facing an obesity epidemic – a “battle of the bulge” of not just national, but global proportions – that requires drastic and immediate action. Experts in the media, medical science, and government alike are scrambling to find answers. What or who is responsible for this crisis, and what can we do to stop it?
As a young child, I could barely go a day without brushing your weathered fingers against my cheeks or wrapping your perfumed scarves across my dainty shoulders. You made the overwhelming scent of Elizabeth Arden Red Door seem elegant and refined. You go, mom.
It's hard to imagine that I've spent the last 12 years —half of my life— without you. There are still some nights when I mistake the swift turn of a doorknob for your arrival. I can still picture you, with your tired eyes and impossibly heavy handbag, walking through the front door like nothing ever changed.