October 17, 2011

Empire of Images: The Body Collage Project

Filed under: Body Image — Melanie @ 3:55 pm
Empire of Images: The Body Collage Project

I wasn’t trying to make a political or intellectual statement when I decided to get rid of my television in college.

I was trying to send a message to my live-in boyfriend, the one who was perpetually tuned in to sports channels and too distracted by video games to do his share of household chores. My message was simple and practical. Like, hey, pick up your wet towel off the bathroom floor. Or, hey, time to make dinner for me.

I’d been a pop culture junkie since girlhood and when I broke up with the TV, I felt like my best friend and I had broken up. But I noticed something extraordinary in a few short months. For the first time since I was 8-years-old, I felt good about myself. I wasn’t as critical, meticulously evaluating and judging every inch of my body. It took me a few weeks to figure out how the usual “fat talk” had diminished.

I didn’t completely cut media out of my life. I still enjoyed movies, read a weekly tabloid or two, and of course I continued to be subjected to the usual onslaught of media messages on virtually every cultural space available; billboards, buses, check-out stands, the free “postcards” (ahem, ads) in restaurants etc. But just that one effort to minimize my level of exposure had produced some important results: an increase in my self-esteem and a broader, more inclusive image of beauty- one that was less defined by unrealistic standards and Photoshop.

I’d always known that I didn’t fit the cultural beauty ideal, but it certainly didn’t keep me from making endless dangerous attempts to squeeze myself into that narrow definition. But it wasn’t until I stopped watching television that I realized the monstrous amount of images I had been exposed to, their negative consequences and the incredible difference between what is expected and what is real.

Years later when I began teaching a college course called Women and Pop Culture, I wanted to create a similar experience for my students, an opportunity for them to come face-to-face with the barrage of unrealistic expectations that profit from our insecurities and the reality of female beauty. The result was a project called the Body Collage. Each student was required to fill a poster board with images of beauty from mainstream magazines. I took each poster and covered 2 walls from floor to ceiling and then photographed my students in front of this “empire of images.” The results were striking.

 

“The power of the body collage was, not to sound redundant, powerful. Being able to stand in front of the endless images of “real” women and realizing that I myself was the real woman, was beyond inspirational.”- Chandler R.

 

“My mom and I have probably have about 4 different (fashion) magazine subscriptions so each month as I browse through them I am shown what is the ‘ideal’ and what the media considers ‘beautiful.’ It was so easy to get these images because these magazines are half ads. The first section is just a parade of these women’s “perfect” bodies. Then there are the actual fashion spreads. Standing in front of the wall filled with these images was like standing in front of my months subscriptions. The only thing missing was the occasional article. It pretty ridiculous how these ads force and coerce people into believe that this is the ‘standard’. Seeing the bodies all put together only illuminates the fact that the size 0 frame is anything but normal, average or the ‘standard'” –Devin R.

 

 

“It made me upset when I looked at my finished collage and I didn’t even see one person who looked like me. I’ve always felt like I am the one who looks different and that there is something wrong with me, but I was wrong because I didn’t realize that these images in the media are fake and altered and in no way reflect what real women look like.- Charlene G.
“Looking at all the collages together,  you can’t help but feel overwhelmed by all the images that are plastered around you and it’s amazing how we think we can ignore it but we can’t.”- Diana S.

 

“When viewing the wall of images that the class created with everyone, I realized that not a single person in the room looked the way that all of the models did. It really emphasized just how unrealistic and altered the images really are. Everything from the models’ waist sizes, breast sizes, and perfect skin are in some way altered through Photoshop, the makeup they have on, or the extreme measures most models take to become so skinny. There was really no diversity, which is ironic because the United States is probably the most diverse country in the world. The high, high majority of real women were not represented in any of the collages, which shows how cultivated our media really is.” -Kaila M

 

 

“The wall of all these fake women that have been altered to look ‘perfect’ was an eye opener for me. None of the women in the class that stood in front of the wall looked like none of the women on the wall yet those are the images that are bombarding us to say how we need to look. When I was doing my poster I started to get mad of how I was cutting out all these women from all these different magazines and I couldn’t relate to none of them. I had a Spanish magazine were Latina women were being shown in it and it got me even more pissed because Latinas are known for having curves and not being stick thin yet every single woman I cut out was changed to look skinny and flawless.” -Maribel M

Originally posted at Proud2Bme, a revised version first posted at Feminist Fatale.

July 4, 2011

You’re So Perfect…Except for Your Boobs

“Look! I married you a certain way! I like women who look a certain way! It’s my right to like women who look a certain way and I shouldn’t have to spend the rest of my life not being happy,” Brad exclaimed.

The retort from my friend Jasmine’s husband was a reaction to her staunch refusal to get ‘another set’ less than two months after removing the implants that nearly cost her her life.  For nearly a decade Jasmine endured numerous health complications that Western doctors claimed had nothing to do with her silicone breast implants.

Brad seemed different from her last fiance, which is why Jasmine married him. He seemed open-minded, kind, forgiving, gentle, nurturing, and accepting. When she sprouted a few stray gray hairs in her late twenties he urged her not to pluck them saying he loved her “wisdom hairs.”

Tim, her boyfriend a decade earlier, told her she was perfect and the “girl of his dreams.” Well, almost. She was the girl of his dreams except her breasts were too small and she’d be perfect if they were bigger. In fact he’d marry her if she’d consider breast enlargement surgery. Within a week Jasmine, then 18 years old in 1990, found herself under the knife. When she woke up the static and lifeless silicone orbs on her chest were much larger than what she had agreed to during the initial consultation. The consultation that came within days of her halfheartedly agreeing to consider them.

Jasmine was genetically tiny and naturally beautiful by today’s standard. Now she embodied the girl on the back of a trucker’s mudflap. Tim’s version of the perfect wife. As promised, they were quickly engaged and twenty-five-year-old Tim, the ‘hot guy’ in town, paraded her around like a trophy–until she had the courage to leave him for being emotionally abusive and controlling.

(more…)

April 28, 2011

Starving at 8

Filed under: Body Image — Tags: , , , , , — Melanie @ 11:20 pm

By Sarit Rogers. Originally posted at Visions Adolescent Treatment Centers. Cross-posted with permission.

I know an 8-year-old who’s been known to choose an outfit specifically because it makes her “look thin.” This same 8-year-old often doesn’t finish meals because she thinks she’s fat. She’s the same 8-year-old that has begun to develop food rituals, often leaving the table with a reorganized plate full of uneaten food. Simply put, she already has an irrational fear of getting fat.

It’s hard being a girl. It’s hard to find a way to look at your unique self without comparing it with images of Barbie or Bratz. It’s hard to accept that  the beauty standard set by Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty isn’t actually real. But children, whose minds are filled with wonderful imagination and fantasy, aren’t going to cognitively recognize images that are potentially harmful. Instead, many will attempt to achieve the pink, thin, fluffiness of a Disney princess, or the skinny sass of a Bratz doll. Often times, even when parents are encouraging a healthy body image, the education on the school yard has a dramatically different lesson plan than the one from home. I’ve overheard conversations on the school yard that have made me pause – it’s clear that body-image issues are in abundance and the pressure to look thin and svelte is invasive and intense.

So what can parents do? Start with eliminating the shame game. This might mean letting your daughter dump that maple syrup on her pancakes or having a cupcake at a birthday party. It’s a treat, not a vehicle for punishment!  Encourage healthy eating, but can you do it with compassion rather than the mallet of criticism?  Eliminate “fat talk”: your kids don’t need to hear it and frankly, it’s not good for you either. Stop trying to control what those around you eat. It’s not your job!  I’ve seen dads controlling the food intake of their wives and daughters to the point of devastating eating disorders (my dad was one!); and I’ve seen moms spewing “fat talk” or signing up for any and every diet fad while their daughters learn to eat in secret or restrict because they’re terrified of the incendiary reaction of their parental food monitors. These behaviors certainly don’t encourage self-love. If anything, they sow the seeds of self-destruction.

If you’re worried that your son or daughter might be developing an eating disorder (boys are not immune to this!), look out for some of these signs (Note, certain behaviors are warning signs, but in combination and over time, they can become quite serious):

Behaviors specific to anorexia

  • Major weight loss (weighs 85% of normal weight for height or less)
  • Skips meals, always has an excuse for not eating (ill, just ate with a friend, stressed-out, not hungry). Refuses to eat in front of others
  • Selects only low fat items with low nutrient levels, such as lettuce, tomatoes, and sprouts. Reads food labels religiously; worried about calories and fat grams in foods. Eats very small portions of foods
  • Becomes revolted by former favorite foods, such as desserts, red meats, potatoes
  • May help with meal shopping and preparation, but doesn’t eat with family
  • Eats in ritualistic ways, such as cutting food into small pieces or pushing food around plate
  • Lies about how much food was eaten
  • Has fears about weight gain and obesity, obsesses about clothing size. Complains about being fat, when in truth it is not so
  • Inspects image in mirror frequently, weighs self frequently
  • Exercises excessively and compulsively
  • May wear baggy clothing or many layers of clothing to hide weight loss and to stay warm
  • May become moody and irritable or have trouble concentrating. Denies that anything is wrong
  • May harm self with cutting or burning
  • Evidence of discarded packaging for diet pills, laxatives, or diuretics (water pills)
  • Stops menstruating
  • Has dry skin and hair, may have a growth of fine hair over body
  • May faint or feel dizzy frequently

Behaviors specific to bulimia

  • Preoccupation or anxiety about weight and shape
  • Disappearance of large quantities of food
  • Excuses self to go to the bathroom immediately after meals
  • Evidence of discarded packaging for laxatives, diuretics, enemas
  • May exercise compulsively
  • May skip meals at times
  • Teeth may develop cavities or enamel erosion
  • Broken blood vessels in the eyes from self-induced vomiting
  • Swollen salivary glands (swelling under the chin)
  • Calluses across the joints of the fingers from self-induced vomiting
  • May be evidence of alcohol or drug abuse, including steroid use
  • Possible self-harm behaviors, including cutting and burning

If you notice even one of these, it’s time to address it. Talk to your daughter or son, talk to your doctor. If necessary, elicit the help of a treatment facility. In other words: Get help. Showing our kids that we care and are willing to stop our own negative behaviors in order to help them is invaluable. It’s a family problem, not an individual one.

Some helpful links:

NEDA
WebMD
Voice in Recovery
Peggy Orenstein

Image © sarit photography.

April 20, 2011

Talking Back to Mainstream Media- Photobooth of Change WAM! LA 2011

Filed under: Media — Tags: , , , , , — Melanie @ 12:13 pm

In keeping with the WAM! LA tradition, attendees and presenters of WAM! LA 2011 had an opportunity to talk back to the mainstream media. Check out what they had to say!

Related:


April 15, 2011

J. Crew’s Toenail-Painting Ad Causes Pink Scare

Originally posted at Ms. Magazine.

The sweet J. Crew ad I celebrated last week has ignited a “pink scare,” with socially conservative commentators outrageously upset. The ad features a mother– J.Crew’s creative director, Jenna Lyons–and her son delighting in one another’s company on a Saturday afternoon by painting their toenails hot pink (and thereby selling J. Crew’s Essie nail polish). The ad doesn’t make much fanfare of the nail painting and is fairly inconspicuous. As Melissa Wardy, founder of Pigtail Pals- Redfine Girly, comments on Good Morning America‘s coverage of the gendered hoopla:

The camera has to zoom in SO much on the toes to make the news story, you completely lose sight of the delightful moment between loving, doting mother and happy, beautiful son.

In, what Nikita Blue calls, “ominous paranoid ramblings,” Dr. Keith Ablow goes off in a “conspiracy-theorist tangent,” claiming this ad contributes to “psychological sterilization,” erases gender differences and homogenizes males and females by propagandizing them to choose a gender identity that is not the “natural” one they were born with:

Well, how about the fact that encouraging the choosing of gender identity, rather than suggesting our children become comfortable with the ones that they got at birth, can throw our species into real psychological turmoil—not to mention crowding operating rooms with procedures to grotesquely amputate body parts?

Media Research Center’s Erin Brown claims the ad exploits Lyons’ son, Beckett, through the “blatant propaganda celebrating transgendered children.” According to Brown, ads like these and irresponsible mothers such as Lyons will create more confused boys, much like the controversial “Princess boy.”

Sexist and homophobic concerns like the ones expressed by Ablow and Brown raise several important points worth exploring. First and foremost, the notion that there is a direct correlation between color, gender and sexual identity is ludicrous. Color codes are recent social inventions, constructs originally inverse. Phyllis Burke’s Gender Shock and Peggy Orenstein’s Cinderella Ate My Daughter trace the sociohistorical origins of pink and blue segregation–gendered coding that wasn’t instilled until the early 20th century. Prior to that, glancing at a babies clothing didn’t reveal any trace of gendered identity: They all wore white gowns. Photographs of my great-grandparents, both born circa 1902, are identical and indistinguishable. Check out this photo of Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1884!

Once color coding got underway in earnest, the colors were reversed. Pink, a color close to red, was equated with strength and masculinity. Light blue was a “natural” sign of femininity and, according to Orenstein’s reasearch, equated with “intimations of the Virgin Mary, constancy, and faithfulness.” Given that history, it becomes clear that color codes are arbitrary, socially constructed and have no bearing or impact on one’s “natural” gender or sexual identity. As Dr. Logan Levkoff explains:

Dear Fox, colors don’t have genders. Colors are just colors. Liking certain colors [doesn’t] mean you like girls or boys, or want to be either of them, now or in the future.

Secondly,  there’s nothing “natural” about gender. Gender is a social construct reflecting cultural dictates within a specific historical context and those gendered prescriptions change as the culture changes. Just as culture is dynamic and fluid, so are gendered expectations. Obviously, Ablow and Brown aren’t familiar with the difference between the biological concept of sex, referring to maleness and femaleness and the continuum between the two, and gender, the socially constructed definitions and expectations of masculinity and femininity. Their critiques of J. Crew’s ad demonstrates rampant essentialism–the idea that one’s biological sex is destiny while ignoring historical and contemporary contradictions to that idea. If having a penis “naturally” led boys and men to embody “masculinity” and a vagina “naturally” equated with all things “feminine,” we’d see much more historical and cultural uniformity.

Third, not only is the idea that the J. Crew ad squelches “naturally” assigned gender identity ridiculous given the difference between biological sex and socially constructed gender, but Ablow’s quote doesn’t address the real culprit in stifling natural and healthy explorations: the color-coded assault by marketers on children’s play. It seems to me that the hyper-segmented pink world of the princess and the blue world of the boy warrior is much more responsible for shaping gender identity than an ad featuring hot-pink toenails on a boy. In that way, J. Crew is a small sign of opening up gendered possibilities–possibilities that represent authentic personal choice.

In Brown’s opinion piece, she goes on to say that mothers such as Lyons or Sarah Manley are setting up their sons for a hard time in the future. There she’s right, and this gets to the crux of the issue. The system of patriarchy values masculinity and devalues femininity. In fact, within patriarchy, masculinity is a fundamental mainstream cultural value. In the Good Morning America segment, Manley rightly points out that if the ad featured a girl playing with trucks in the mud there wouldn’t have been this type of outcry. While girls are awash in a sea of pink, they are more likely to be encouraged and celebrated for exploring and developing “masculine” characteristics, while boys are discouraged and shamed for developing “feminine” characteristics precisely because of masculinity’s cultural capital. What Ablow or Fox don’t acknowledge is that these are simply human characteristics, gendered one way or the other and thereby differently valued. As I wrote on my Feminist Fatale blog last week:

When a 17-month-old boy is beaten to death for being too “girly,” a five-year-old is accused of being gay for choosing to dress up like Daphne from Scooby-Doo for Halloween, a boy who likes pink dresses causes headline news and a high-school football player is kicked off the field for wearing pink cleats during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I think it’s more than obvious that social expectations regarding femininity and masculinity continue to be incredibly rigid, stifling and too often dangerous.

J. Crew’s ad doesn’t depict misguided and dangerous decisions made by J. Crew or parents like Jenna Lyons. The reactions and social outcry against it depict the dangerous world of gender policing within the system of patriarchy.

Close-up of ad via J. Crew

April 7, 2011

Make-up and Hot Pink Toenails- Not Just a Girl Thing

Filed under: Advertising — Tags: , , , — Melanie @ 3:13 pm

My toddler son has a thing for all things wheeled.  He can easily distinguish a skip loader from a backhoe and a semi-truck from a dump truck. He’s also intrigued by my jewelery box, stacking bracelets high up his pudgy arms. After watching Mommy’s daily morning ritual of applying some eyeshadow and liquid liner on countless occasions, it’s none too surprising that he’s fascinated by my make-up box, eager to smear eyeshadow across his eyelids (forehead, nose and cheeks). My friend’s little boy loved sparkly ballet flats and dollhouses while another’s had a penchant for his sister’s pink tutu and glittered angel wings.

These boys are commonplace-and not represented in mainstream pop culture. There’s no room for these normal explorations in our hyper-segmented world of marketing. And, as a tragic example further down in this post will show, these normal, healthy childhood curiosities and small pleasures are usually quickly beaten out of boys, figuratively and literally.

Given this heavily color-coded world of children’s play, policed through gendered toy ads, catalogs and cartoons, this J. Crew advertisement comes as a breath of fresh air.Without eliciting much fanfare, a young boy and his mother are shown spending “quality time” together by painting their toenails. Hot. Pink. (Click on the image to enlarge.)

When a 17-month-old boy is beaten to death for being too “girly,” a 5-year-old is accused of being gay for choosing to dress up like Daphne from Scooby-Doo for Halloween, a boy who likes pink dresses causes headline news, and a high-school football player is kicked off the field for wearing pink cleats during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I think it’s more than obvious that social expectations regarding femininity and masculinity continue to be incredibly rigid, stifling, and too often dangerous.

And, advertising happens to be a major player in the active construction of culture and the socialization of it’s members (us!), a socialization process that shapes our expectations of ourselves and others, our desires and our relationships. In other words, the values and norms of a society are framed by the branded images and lifestyles consciously and carefully constructed by advertisers seeking to maximize profit.

J. Crew’s ad presents the idea that pink isn’t just for girls, just as blue isn’t just for boys. It expands the range of possibility for what girls and boys can do and be. It may be one ad running counter to a stream of narrowly defined ads that eliminate a full range of possibilities for boys and girls, but there it is.

And it makes me hopeful. And, sometimes, given the material I regularly work with, celebrating small victories and becoming hopeful is vital and necessary.

Cross-posted at Elephant Journal and WIMN’s Voices.

 

 

March 28, 2011

It’s Not Just the Abercrombie ‘Push-Up’ Bikini That’s the Problem, It’s the Sea of Sexualized Products

Filed under: Sexuality — Tags: , , , , — Melanie @ 2:51 pm

Dr. Robyn Silverman was featured on a segment of the Today Show on MSN this morning in response to the controversy over Abercrombie + Fitch’s “push-up” kiddie bikini. She makes a point similar to the one I made last night about The Gap’s “always skinny” jeans ad campaign: it’s not just this one padded bikini top marketed to children that contributes to the early sexualization of pre-pubescent girls, but the cavalcade of products that sex-up our kids. It’s a point I mentioned in a post last year when I highlighted the countless products targeting our children. Listen to the full conversation below.

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Related articles:

March 27, 2011

The Gap Vows to Be “Always Skinny”

Filed under: Advertising — Tags: , , , — Melanie @ 9:50 pm

I came across this display at The Gap a few days ago. Not exactly subtle, eh?

From skinny pretzels and skinny soda cans to skinny water (yes, skinny water) and Skinnygirl Margarita, courtesy of reality star, Bethany Frankel, we’re a culture saturated with messages about getting skinny, staying skinny, and as The Gap proclaims, remaining skinny by any means necessary.

When body image activists call out products and advertising campaigns, like Urban Outfitters recent “Eat Less” t-shirt, for the irresponsible messages that cultivate, promote and reinforce unhealthy, even deadly, definitions of beauty, there’s always a backlash.

We’re overreacting. We have no sense of humor.  We must be ugly and bitter (after all, we’re jealous because we’re so damn ugly) if we object over the name of a pair dark-washed jeans or a bag or pretzels, the shape and name of a soda can or a brand of margarita mix. They’re harmless.

Perhaps, one bag of pretzels or one protein bar named “Think Thin,” might arguably be fairly innocuous and benign, but these messages and images are not isolated or few. They’re one in a torrential flood of repetitive images and messages actively constructing our cultural reality through the process of cultivation, a theory proposed by media experts George Gerbner and Larry Gross.

Cultivation is the building and maintenance of a stable set of images, a theory steeped in several longitudinal studies that assessed the behavioral and attitudinal effects of television. The studies revealed that long-term exposure of television shapes our ideas and concepts of reality; our expectations of others, our relationships, our dreams and goals and, ultimately, our view of ourselves.

I’m not concerned solely with The Gap’s jeans campaign. I’m distressed how message after message, image after image, reinforces a cult of thinness. This cult of thinness is not limited by age, race, or class. It’s a message that is ubiquitous and celebrated in every aspect of our media culture. Thinness is one of the primary components of our beauty ideal, the primary and, often sole way, girls and women are valued and ranked in our culture.

As my student, Elizabeth P., noted, “Because anorexia and harsh diets are no joke. Healthy balanced diets are always better than “always skinny” and skinny by all means.”

Am I taking these messages seriously? Absolutely. Am I taking them too seriously? Absolutely not. You can’t take these issues too seriously when 4th graders are dieting because they’re “scared” to be fat and women are dying.

I vow to be “always critical” and always expose the potency of media messages. After all, they’re the water we swim in and the air we breathe.

Cross-posted at WIMN’s Voices.

March 17, 2011

Feminist Frequency + Feminist Fatale on KPFK’s Feminist Magazine

Filed under: Media — Tags: , , , , , , — Melanie @ 1:44 pm

On Wednesday, March 16, 2011 I joined Feminist Frequency‘s Anita Sarkeesian on KPFK’s Feminist Magazine in Los Angeles with host Lynn Harris Ballen. Anita discussed critical media literacy and vlogging as a viable way to bring feminist and gender critiques to audiences outside academia in a way that makes them, not only more accessible, but more relatable. I join the end of her segment to discuss WAM! LA 2011, the second annual WAM-It-Yourself event in Los Angeles, hosted at Santa Monica College. Tune in for Anita’s engaging discussion and details on next week’s line-up of presenters from visual artist Daena Title, the editors of Ms. Magazine discussing the first year of the Ms. Magazine blog to body image activist, Claire Mysko, author of Does This Pregnancy Make Me Look Fat?, to Anita herself plus many more. Don’t forget to RSVP to the event here.

Anita Sarkeesian and Melanie Klein on KPFK’s Feminist Magazine

March 8, 2011

How To Celebrate International Women’s Day From Your Comfortable Suburban Home

Filed under: Gender,Politics — Tags: , , — Melanie @ 1:27 pm
Originally posted at Pigtail Pals by Melissa Wardy. Cross-posted with permission.
My view of a day spent in a Cape Town township, South Africa.

Today is the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day.  A day to celebrate economic, political, and social gains by women worldwide. Today we honor achievements, and remember the women before us who brought us to this day. Today. A day to celebrate women.

Sisters, wives,  mothers, daughters, grandmothers, aunts, neighbors, friends, schoolmates, and coworkers.  The women of our world.
Yet in many places of the world, today will pass without celebration. Odds are good somewhere a woman will cradle a starving or sick child. Somewhere a woman will receive verbal threats or a physical blow from an intimate partner. Somewhere a girl will be raped as she walks to school. Somewhere a woman will walk miles for the clean water she needs to feed her family the one meal a day they can afford.
Somewhere a woman will be informed she has lost her job because she had taken time off to birth a child. Somewhere a woman will take home a paycheck that is nearly 1/3 less than that of the guy in the office next to her, although they do the same job. Somewhere a girl will sit in a classroom and be too timid to raise her hand. Somewhere a woman will give up on political ambitions.
All of those things have just happened in the time it took you to read those sentences.
None of these stories have changed in the 100 years we have celebrated women on this day. But still, we celebrate. Because for over 100 years the voices of women have not been silenced, their dreams have not been swept away despite often times incredible odds, their ambitions have been fulfilled despite being met with resistance. Women have always been strong. We have to be. We bear the weight of the world.
Women do 2/3 of the world’s work, earn 10% of the income, and own 1% of the land.
70 million girls are denied access to education in our world, and another 60 million will be sexually assaulted on their way to school.
That all seems far removed from me, as I sit in my comfortable home, typing on my laptop and fetching my son snacks while my daughter is playing at her preschool. It seems as far away as the photo above, that I took during a trip to South Africa in 2003. The children in the foreground danced around us as we unloaded treats from our pockets, and clung to our hands as we talked to the women gathered around those cement basins doing their wash. Do you see the women just right of center, in the white shirt and jean skirt? She was my age when I was on that trip – 25. She had a baby with her, which she later wrapped to her body as she carried her bundled wash on her head. She invited me to walk with her, calling me Tante Melissa. Auntie Melissa. Within minutes we had become sisters. We had nothing in common. Our worlds so different we could have been from separate planets. But still, she offered me smiles and we held hands while we walked. She was proud to show me around. I was honored she accepted me as her friend. When the combi drove away late in the afternoon, she was standing there, waving goodbye to me. I pressed my hand to the glass as I watched her get smaller and smaller.
That trip changed my life. Africa has a way of doing that to you. I have not been able to go back, as now I have my own two babes to carry around. I cannot leave them yet for several weeks at a time, so my return trip will wait. But my compassion does not have to.
Today I will celebrate the women in my world. I will send messages to the family members and colleagues who inspire me. I will thank the teachers at my daughters school. I will call a friend to say hello. I will inspire sisterhood in others. I strongly believe that sisterhood – the power of women coming together and working together – is the final untapped natural resource of our world. And it is continually renewed, with the birth of each new baby girl. We are all sisters.
There are only two IWD events in my entire state. But I won’t let that limit me. I do not believe in limitations. I will not let the comfort of my day-to-day routine in my predictable suburban neighborhood, in my cozy suburban home, make me blind to what we all need to be seeing.
So how can you change the world from where you are?
-Think globally, and donate to the amazing efforts of The Girl EffectCharity WaterKiva, and  Heifer International.
-Think locally and donate to a women’s shelter, food pantry,  Girls Inc, write a letter to a woman soldier, or offer assistance to a family you know that is in need.
-Write a letter and thank your mama.
-Give flowers to a friend or mentor with a hand written note telling her why you honor her.
-Over tip the waitress.
-Stand up and walk over to a nearby office or cubicle and tell a colleague you appreciate them.
-Cook a meal for a neighbor. Or get together with a neighbor and cook some meals for a single mom, a new mom, or a widow.
-Invite that single mom or widow into your home for dinner.
-Round up old toys and books and donate them to a crisis nursery.
-Send cards to your closest girlfriends, thanking them for having your back.
-Bake some cookies with the kids and take them to teachers or nurses on the maternity ward, thanking them for what they do for children.
-Sit down with your children and go through a book or website that shares the biographies of the intrepid women who brought us to this day.
-Draw self portraits with your girl, and help her write down her attributes that make her unique and wonderful.
-Send a note to a former teacher. Do you know how important teachers are?
-Make a commitment to offer more grace and kindness to other women.
-And finally, tonight, when all is quiet and you have your mind all your own, write a letter to yourself. Offer gratitude for everything you have in life. Write down those dreams you are too shy to say out loud, and acknowledge the dreams you’ve already made come true. Write down some happy memories from the last year, and new ones you hope to create. Take the chance to inspire yourself.
From me to you, Happy 100th International Women’s Day. Cheers to us, and let’s prepare to celebrate 100 more!
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