You may have heard or read that Turkish Airlines implemented a ban on wearing red lipstick or nail polish because it was said to undermine the “visual integrity” of the airline. Whether it does or doesn't do this, it's pretty clear that red isn't associated with purity in this situation. I disagree with the ban for my own feminist reasons but always think it is wise to consider the cultural context in which such decisions are made (and in this case overturned as a result of pressure). In my search for other articles about Turkish Airlines I found a second and contrasting example of the use of red (and flight attendants, coincidentally).
Whenever I catch a glance of myself in a store window as I walk past, I'm surprised. I've been an amputee for thirteen years – ever since I was diagnosed with bone cancer at age fifteen. Still, in my head, I think I walk just like everyone else. The full-length windows show me differently. I have a slight limp. My hip dips as I walk. My prosthetic socket is visible through the side of my jeans and squishes up one butt cheek. I'm fascinated by this stranger everyone else sees. Even now, there are so few differently-able people in the media that I will sometimes walk back and forth trying to image what I look like to other people. A process that becomes more complicated when I am wearing shorts or a dress.
I dislike the way my prosthetic leg looks most when it is off. I roll it under the bed at night. I cover it with a towel by the pool. It looks lifeless, dead. I am reminded that one day it will be left behind when I die. It will be someone's job to take a piece of me to be dismantled and donated to landmine victims overseas. The actual appearance of the titanium pole, plastic foot, and springs don't bother me as much as the way other people stare. I can feel it when you touch me. I can also feel the way a friend freezes the first time they do it and are afraid they've done something wrong. Their body language communicates their debate of whether or not to take their hand away.
In this culture of images, our currency is made up of envious or admiring glances. Advertising encourages us to be the center of attention but only for the right reasons. I've become accustom to the way people look at my body as they try to figure out is wrong. I'm not used to the nasty looks people give me when I am with my girlfriend.
When I first came out a year ago, a female friend commented, “so you like ugly girls.” She immediately tried to pass it off as a joke. We were flipping through Facebook profiles of the girls I had crushes on. In some ways, I am so grateful to her for her insensitive slip-up. Her accidental honesty made me realize I was trying to blend in and pass for a beauty norm I didn't even find attractive. Real punishments exist for falling off the grid of accepted standards. Yet, real freedom comes from trusting your own vision.
After tweaking my knee recently while teaching a fitness class, my first thought was—to quote a text I sent to my best friend about two hours after the incident—I am a fucking idiot. The idiocy, as far as I was concerned, was my refusal to stop pushing myself despite the signals my body was giving me over the last few weeks. Signals in the form of pain. Some context—I’ve had five orthopedic surgeries on my right leg since 2005. Most recently in December 2012, I needed a second ankle ligament reconstruction after rupturing the first, plus a knee surgery to fix a torn meniscus and pop a few cysts.
The reason I dropped the F bomb on myself was because I felt so angry and frustrated for not learning the lesson of self care. I was injured and then beating myself up further for not stopping. You don’t need to be a Buddhist to know this is not exactly compassionate, loving-kindness. Even after years of working on my inner monologue and teaching others to do the same, I still found myself failing the “Would you treat a friend that way?” test (note: I treat my friends very well.).
I can’t overstate the importance and high stakes of reigning in self-hate, blame and shame in favor of a gentle attitude towards the self. I share that story because even at 36, I am very much a work in progress. The initial idea for this article was to write about the bulimia I developed a when I was 18 and when I found myself more drawn to write on the subject of injuries and self care, I fast realized they are closely related. I grew up with a “No pain, no gain!” and “Walk it off!” mentality. The perfectionism I internalized became a way to measure myself against goals that were simply unattainable. The eating disorder I developed and then the string of body breakdowns share similar roots and my healing from both is the tree of self love.
I can honestly say I’m sick of hearing about, talking about and thinking about fat. And yet it’s everywhere – whether it’s the fear-mongering headlines that claim our country has been consumed by an obesity epidemic or if it’s the innumerable magazine articles written on the newest get-thin-quick scheme, it’s undeniable that over the years, our society has become obsessed with fat. But despite the often one-sided, overwhelmingly negative attitude our country has towards fat, the question remains: what is the true nature of fat as an issue of health?
I’m a walking contradiction. I’m a professional makeup artist who relies on women to seek out and pay for what society says they should “fix.” I walk a very fine line between two truths; women really don’t need the majority of what big, conglomerate, multi-billion dollar companies say they need and that they need my expertise as a makeup artist to help them understand how to choose and apply what these companies want to sell to them.
Why do girls compete with each other about who is the prettiest?
The question of competition and appearance reminded me of an essay by Julie Yoo, a Korean-American writer who has spent time documenting the beauty phenomena in South Korean, an area that is heavily influenced by American popular culture. According to her, South Koreans idealize big eyes, a pale clean complexion, a tall slim stature, and petite facial features (2006). It probably doesn't come as a surprise that this disproportionately impacts Korean women.
South Korean men and women are not only forthright about the fact that beauty matters, they're forthright about why it matters. It's widely believed among men and women that good looks increase the odds of landing a better-looking partner and subsequently having better-looking children (Yoo, 2006). Good looks are also believed to result in a more fulfilling lifestyle and more financially gratifying and powerful jobs like those in business and banking sectors (Yoo, 2006).
Maybe I shouldn’t complain.
I am beautiful.
I like the way I look but that may be part of the problem.