“I can’t enjoy how pretty I look if I don’t feel good.” – Bryan Kest
I’d spent almost two decades trying to have the reality of my body conform to the image that had been created in my head. The women in my family, boyfriends, my peer group and, most importantly, the prolific realm of pop culture, had influenced this image of physical perfection, and its correlating value. The joy of living in my body as a child had been replaced by disappointment.
The women in my family were consumed by their weight and their desire to measure up to mainstream standards of beauty; lamenting weight gain with bouts of depression and self-loathing, celebrating weight loss with great fanfare and sizing other women up. An unhealthy preoccupation with my body and food was set in motion before I hit puberty and manifested in all sorts of dangerous methods to obtain thinness: diet pills, colon hydrotherapy, fasting, legal and illegal stimulants, calorie restriction, self-induced vomiting and excessive exercise. And all along the way, the images around me assured me that the pursuit of pretty by any means necessary would be pay off. After all, baby, you’re worth it.
The routes to freedom presented themselves at about the same time: feminism and then yoga. After wandering around fairly aimlessly for over a year, running away and living in Maui for a period of that time, I had landed in “Sociology 22: Sociology of Women” in the fall of 1994at Los Angeles Valley College. I didn’t know what Sociology was or what it might have to say about women, but it sparked my curiosity. “I’m a woman,” I thought and, “this should be more interesting than meeting my general requirements for a major I’m not too committed to.”
“It’s not you. You’re not an isolated case. It’s systematic and it’s called patriarchy,” said the radical 60-something woman at the front of the room with the “War is not good for children and other living creatures” medallion swinging from her neck. She wore a turtleneck encased in a neat blazer and put one leg up on the seat of the chair for leverage as she lectured with more gusto, authority and confidence than any woman I had ever encountered. I was utterly smitten and completely enthralled, all the while having my mind blown during each and every class. The world was transformed. My paradigm shifted from one that viewed my body image issues as seemingly personal troubles to understanding them as public issues that were (and are) systemic in nature. In short, my soon-to-be mentor, in all her fierce fabulousness, had ignited my “sociological imagination.” And it was distinctly feminist.
My sociological and feminist education included a healthy dose of media literacy, a field of study that was just beginning to blossom at the time. I was offered the ideological tools and skill set to deconstruct mediated images and understand the role of the advertising industry in the creation and manufacture of these endless streams of images and messages that flood the cultural landscape. This allowed me examine my tortured relationship with my body in a systematic and structured way, lifting the clouds of shame and guilt that followed my every move.
Maybe there wasn’t something wrong with my body. Maybe there was something wrong with the messages the mainstream medic culture proliferated, contorted and unrealistic messages that were raking in profits from my insecurity and from the body image issues of girls and women around me. (The mainstream media’s targeting of male body image issues didn’t begin in earnest until several years later.) The realization that I wasn’t the problem was a relief and ultimately liberating. It also left me utterly pissed off.
Yoga provided the practice that rooted the things feminist sociology had taught me. It is one thing to intellectualize self-love and acceptance; it’s another to embody and practice it, especially after spending decades learning, practicing and perfecting self-loathing.
My friend, Marla, led me to a spacious dance loft in downtown Santa Monica, a space large enough for over 120 sweaty bodies to get their downward facing dog on by donation. The room was bursting at the seams with a sea of bodies and their body heat warmed the cavernous room. A hard-talking high-school dropout from Detroit was leading the practice in the most conscious and loving way amidst his occasional farts, burps and f-bombs. It was 1997, and I had landed in the company of an eclectic group of yogis led by the sometimes delightfully inappropriate and absolutely authentic Bryan Kest.
I knew I had stumbled upon something utterly delicious and profoundly nurturing for me. It had taken me a lifetime to find yoga and over a year of active searching to find a teacher that fit my needs. His street-wise attitude and working-class background meshed with my own and I felt comfortable. I was finally home.
To read the rest of this essay, purchase the book HERE.
This article is an excerpt of my chapter in the newly published anthology, 21st Century Yoga: Culture, Politics, and Practice, edited by Carol Horton and Roseanne Harvey. In the complete essay, I detail my budding relationship to feminist ideology and my yoga practice. I examine media culture at large and reconcile my experience of yoga as a practice of self-love with an increasingly commercialized yoga “industry.” I invite you to read the rest my chapter, as well as the eleven other phenomenal essays in this book, which discuss contemporary North American yoga and its relationship to issues including recovery, body image, and spirituality. You can learn more about 21st Century Yoga by visiting the website, and purchase a copy either in print or Kindle edition.
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.
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 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!
Originally posted at Gender Focus by Jarrah Hodge. Cross-posted with permission.
For the two years I’ve been on Twitter, I’ve found it to be a really great place for keeping track of news about gender issues and networking with other feminists.
But for new users, it can be difficult to use Twitter effectively. I often hear people complaining that ”all it is is people talking about what they ate for lunch”. I can also see feminists maybe getting turned off given some of the offensive hashtags that end up becoming trending topics, like #rulesforgirls and #ihatewomenwho.
Although I admit I tweet a fair bit about what I’m eating, there’s a lot more to Twitter than the mundane. I’ve tried to list the top Twitter accounts for feminists to follow in a variety of categories, in no particular order. I follow almost 300 related Twitter accounts and I found it difficult to narrow it down. I’d love to hear in the comments below which accounts you think should be added.
#sheparty – This is a hashtag used for a weekly feminist discussion session hosted by the Women’s Media Center each Wednesday from 12-3 PM EST. It’s a great way to use Twitter to network with other feminists and chat with special guests.
#fem2 – Probably the most popular catch-all hashtag for feminist topics.
I must admit that I get excited when I hear anyone embrace the term ‘feminist’, especially in the world of modern media; that is, of course, until that person refers herself as a ‘mama grizzly‘. So naturally, when I came across an MTV interview in which Beyonce used the term to define herself, I was rightfully stoked.
I think I am a feminist in a way. It’s not something I consciously decided I was going to be; perhaps it’s because I grew up in a singing group with other women, and that was so helpful to me. It kept me out of so much trouble and out of bad relationships. My friendships with my girls are just so much a part of me that there are things I am never going to do that would upset that bond. I never want to betray that friendship because I love being a woman and I love being a friend to other women.
I have been a fan of Beyonce’s for years, ever since Destiny’s Child’s second CD The Writings on The Wall came out in 1999. They gave a fresh, young perspective on their experiences in the world as women and I sincerely respected their musical talent and honesty. Those are qualities that I respect about Beyonce to this day.
There has been much debate within the feminist blog-o-sphere about whether Beyonce’s lyrics (specifically those of Single Ladies) should be considered empowering. Empowerment is the foundation for all feminist approaches and one might argue that for a woman to say to a man, “this is my bottom line, take it or leave it”, regardless of what that bottom line is, is the very definition of empowerment. Clearly Beyonce is not a Women’s Studies major with years of feminist theory under her belt; however, she’s never claimed to be. Despite the fact that she is not the first pop star to openly categorize herself as a feminist (TLC’s Chili, Lady Gaga, Ellen Page and Ryan Gosling are also on the f-train), Beyonce’s positive acceptance of a term deemed so negative by the media is most definitely praiseworthy. Considering the fact that feminism has been (and still is) regarded as a movement that is no longer relevant, it is extremely important for celebrities to encourage a supportive conversation regarding feminism- as they can reach a demographic that otherwise wouldn’t think twice about it. Not everyone has the privilege of growing up with positive female relationships like Beyonce and I personally wasn’t able to foster my own until I took a Women’s Studies course; but the beauty is that while our phenomonologies are vastly different, we can still come together as empowered women willing and able to advocate for ourselves.
Originally posted at Hugo Schwyzer by Hugo Schwyzer. Cross-posted with permission.
I wrote last week about Young Feminists Speak Out, an event I attended in Santa Monica. Though it was an important and interesting discussion, I noted that I was taken aback by what I interpreted as an ageist slight at “older feminists.” I mentioned posing for a Facebook photo with my colleague and friend Shira Tarrant, each of us with our middle fingers raised; the picture was captioned “middle-aged feminists flipping off ageism.” I posted it on Facebook within seconds, while the speakers were still speaking and the event was ongoing. Furthermore, while I tweeted my annoyance, I didn’t bring it up in the Q&A that followed, and I left the event early to have dinner with friends.
I’m fortunate to have thousands of Facebook friends, including a great many people in the feminist community and many, many former students. The photo ended up in everyone’s newsfeed on Facebook, and attracted many comments and much discussion. And the impression it left was that Shira and I, as “professional” feminists and professors in our forties, weren’t spending a lot of effort on connecting with the young people who were speaking. We had constricted around a couple of unfortunate remarks, and my choice to post the photo reinforced the notion that ageism had been the great theme of the event. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Writing at Feminist Fatale today, Miranda Petersen takes issue, rightly so, with how I interpreted the evening. Miranda writes:
The truth is age discrimination goes both ways. It’s funny; we addressed the topic of the “generational divide” to help break down some of those assumptions. Instead, we experienced first hand the lack of respect many young feminists are confronted with: either we are cast as ignorant or naive (e.g., “they’ve got so much to learn…”), or our integrity and motives are questioned (e.g., our justification for using “young feminists” in the title). There is certainly much learning to do on our part, and the distinction between age vs. ideological divides is worth some serious discussion. But how are we supposed to do better if we aren’t taken seriously to begin with?
Emphasis in the original.
Miranda’s right. I take full responsibility for posting a photo that was inappropriate and got a tremendous amount of attention. For the record, the picture was taken with my camera and was my idea; it was an impulsive and frankly juvenile decision to post it. I chose to do at the workshop what I try never to do with my students, and indeed warn against — taking one inflammatory remark out of context and focusing on it to the exclusion of everything else. For someone who considers himself a role model as well as an advocate for egalitarianism and social justice, for someone who works with these young people day in and day out, that was disappointing and inappropriate and I am genuinely, publicly sorry. I was wrong.
Ageism is a real issue. It does go both ways. And the annoyance at being falsely characterized as technologically incompetent hardly justifies tuning out the excellent points made by the many wonderful young speakers at last Thursday’s event.
I look forward to participating with enthusiasm and sincerity (and my twittering thumbs) at another such event soon. I will be participating with my colleagues and friends, for that they are, regardless of age.
Guest post by co-organizer and co-moderator of Young Feminists Speak Out: LA, Miranda Petersen.
From left to right: 1. Myra Duran, Tani Ikeda, Jollene Levid, Brie Widaman, Miranda Petersen 2. Tani Ikeda, Jollene Levid, Brie Widaman
Last Thursday I served as Co-Moderator, along with Melanie Klein of Feminist Fatale, for the “Young Feminists Speak Out: Los Angeles” panel/mixer, which I helped organize along with Morgane Richardson, founder of Refuse The Silence, and Myra Duran.
The event was inspired in part by a recent piece in More Magazine that featured Morgane, along with other familiar feminist leaders such as Shelby Knox and Lena Chen. Our goal was to continue the conversation on what young feminism looks like today, while also calling attention to the often-overlooked work of feminists on the west coast, and providing a platform for young feminist activists to speak out in a forum where they would be shown respect and be taken seriously.
When considering potential speakers we aimed to capture the diverse, intersectional nature of LA-based feminist culture. The panelists included Myra Duran, Grassroots Community Organizer, Tani Ikeda, Founder and Co-director of ImMEDIAte Justice, Jollene Levid, National Chairperson for AF3IRM, and Brianne Widaman, Founder and President of Revolution of Real Women. Together, the panelists were able to speak to a broad range of issues—many of which are often left out of the mainstream feminist dialogue—including access to education/the DREAM Act, citizenship status and reproductive justice, anti-imperialism and anti-militarism, the fight against trafficking of women and girls, queer sexuality and sex education, body image and the media.
Our effort to include such a wide range of issues and individual styles led to an intense and empowering discussion on the need to address the underlying capitalist, patriarchal structure of our society, and the importance of re-framing the discussion in a way that is inclusive to everyone, especially those outside academia and the feminist blogoshpere. At the same time, having such a diverse group of panelists proved how challenging it can be to try and neatly encompass so many different approaches and ideologies within a traditional framework, such as a panel discussion. It is possible that trying to include so many different and unique experiences may have led to a less-cohesive dialogue than we anticipated, and it brings up the need to re-think our organizing methods and recognize our own assumptions of the “best” way to initiate a dialogue.
From left to right: Myra Duran, Tani Ikeda, Morgane Richardson, Miranda Petersen, Melanie Klein, Brie Widaman and Jollene Levid
Thursday night, feminists drove from all over L.A. to be at the Young Feminists Speak Outevent in Santa Monica. While the panel (click here for a list of all featured panelists and their bios) focused on the new generation of feminists, people of all ages were in attendance to talk and listen. The event was put together by Morgane Richardson, a feminist originally hailing from the east coast, Myra Duran and Miranda Petersen. Upon moving to Los Angeles and noticing a lack of feminist gatherings in Los Angeles, Morgane was inspired to organize a diverse panel of LA-area feminists and connected with Myra and Miranda to make the vision a reality. They are already working on more feminist events for the Los Angeles area. Melanie Klein and Miranda Petersen moderated, and asked questions which ranged from how each panelist “found” feminism, to whether there’s a need for a current mainstream icon for the feminist movement.
One of the questions asked was whether there is an “east-coast/west-coast divide” in terms of organization, issues, and focus in the movement. I was surprised to hear panelists disagree that a divide exists. Ever since changing my major to Women’s Studies, I’ve wanted to do work for a feminist-focused company, and while there are some in Los Angeles, or regional offices for larger organizations, a great majority exist in Washington D.C. and New York City.