March 31, 2012

Dear Adolescence

 This post is part of Teen Week 2012: Words that Heal.

Hey there. Yeah, you, the fierce teenager I know so well. I know you are having a time of it, trying to find your way out of the vituperative situations thrust upon you by circumstance. I only wish you knew then what I know now.

It’s hard to watch you struggle with your self-esteem and self-worth, as you berate yourself often, and weave truth into the lies your father told you. It saddens me so that you believed them, but in retrospect, I’m not surprised. It’s normal to want to believe your parents, even though in your case, they were full of crap. 40 years and a lot of nicks later, I can tell you they were, in fact, lying, and those untruths had nothing to do with you. You really are enough, dear one More than enough. And when you hurt yourself, you let them win.

You won’t believe this now, but you are a survivor and a warrior. You have always had the intrinsic ability to see the truth and tell it like it is. You are compassionate, and kind, but it will  take time for you to embrace this and stop hiding behind your anger. Eventually, I know you’ll come around.

I want you to know that you find safety and solace from the pain and trauma you’re swimming in. The weight of your secrets and pain won’t break your back but will be the very thing that carry you to safety. Only then will you find the right place to unburden yourself and let go. You really will be ok. Trust me, as the adult you, we have almost 19 years clean, a wonderful child, and a loving husband that wants nothing but happiness and success for us.

There was a time when I ignored you and thought doing so would make the nightmares go away, but it wasn’t until I embraced you and your strength that I realized how incredible you are. Your mom’s boyfriend who tried to kill you was afraid of your moxie; the bastard in high school who raped you tried to kill your spirit with rumors and shame; the ex-boyfriend who hit you wanted to control your spirit. They lost and you prevailed, eventually directing your life to one of service and love. You were a badass for asking for help and seeking therapy on your own at 16. Talk about willingness, how inspiring!

I wish I could tell you that your grandmother loved you like the daughter she never had. I wish I could stop you from making some of the choices you made, but I can’t. They are what they are, and they ended up making you into the woman you become. I wish I could tell you not to stop singing, and not to believe the hate your father spewed at you. He was wrong. You are talented. You are smart. You are normal.

You, dear one, are worthy of all the love in the world. It’s going to be okay. Be safe; Be kind to yourself; Follow your heart. I love you, songbird.

Hey, Teen Me! I’m Grateful for You. Teen Week 2012

This post is part of Teen Week 2012: Words that Heal. Originally posted at

Hey, Teen Me! I’m Grateful for You. Teen Week 2012

Dear Sweet 16,
It’s me, the 39-year-old you with a little advice, lots of love, and tons of gratitude.

I don’t want to take up too much of your time, but I’m writing to let you know that I’m thinking about you. In fact, I think of you often and you need to know it. I think you’re a remarkable, crafty and capable young woman and I’m grateful to you for giving me this life; a beautiful son, a deep love and appreciation of art and nature, a rewarding career, and some kick-ass friends. Yeah, really. That’s what’s going on now and you’re the one to thank. You don’t give yourself enough credit, grrl. You’re fierce.
I wish I could remind you of these admirable traits more often, especially in those nagging moments of doubt and uncertainty that seem to be becoming more frequent. I’d love to regularly celebrate your accomplishments and triumphs with you. So I’m here now, offering you support and words of encouragement because I know you need it. I know you feel inadequate far too often. You think you’re not cool enough, pretty enough or smart enough. I know that you feel alone, especially since your greatest champion, Opa, passed away earlier this year. I know it sucks that you lost him so early. But be glad you had such a rich relationship with your grandfather while you did. His gifts to you last a lifetime. His memory never leaves you.

It’s Not You
But the guy you’re with now, the guy you’ve been dating for almost two years is another story. He’s a problem. He’s a huge reason your self-esteem has tanked. May I remind you of your joyful spirit? Your sense of wonder? He’s made you feel inadequate and you’ve lost yourself along the way.

I know you blame yourself for his abusive behavior. Too often he makes you feel crazy and erratic- he causes you to question your worth. You think you’re the reason he changed. You keep waiting for him to come around- to treat you the way he did when you met. He was so kind, attentive and loving. Maybe he’d change if you changed—if you were better.

I know it may be hard to believe now, but it’s not your fault and there’s nothing about you that needs to be fixed (and you certainly shouldn’t be wasting your time trying to fix him). You’re smart, you’re talented and capable. Really, it’s not you. Besides, I’ve seen him recently and, honey, it ain’t pretty. If you keep waiting on him to change, you’ll be waiting forever and your life will pass you by. He’s well over 40 now and not much different than you know him now.

And why do you have a boyfriend anyway? You’re much too young for a serious (and seriously dysfunctional) relationship. I know it seems like anyone who is anyone is dating, but don’t cave into the pressure. There’s plenty of time for dating. Your relationship status isn’t a sign of your worth. Yeah, I know- he’s hot, he surfs, he plays guitar. Well, even those charms fade, believe me. You’ll meet other guys, better ones. Don’t let him treat you badly. It isn’t you.

You’re resourceful. You’re a survivor. It’s because of you that I’ve been able to accomplish all that I have. In fact, whenever you run into old friends, the friends you’re hanging out with now, they’re amazed, absolutely amazed, at how you turned out. You truly defied the odds and I am eternally grateful for your fierce commitment to improve your life.

Don’t Waste Time
You deserve better. No high school sophomore should have a bruise on her face in her yearbook picture. Once you come to recognize, believe in, and appreciate your own worth, you’ll lose interest him and demand better. I promise. Don’t waste your time seeking external validation from anyone, especially him. When you do that, you’re vulnerable and at the mercy of his fickle moods and desires. He is not the most important relationship in your life. He does not determine your value.

Love Yourself Fiercely and Unconditionally
You determine your own value. Nurture yourself, respect yourself, and cultivate self-love.

Don’t be so hard on yourself.

Don’t second-guess yourself.

Don’t judge yourself.

Don’t self-sabotage your own success.

Don’t make yourself small.

Use your voice.

Focus on your art, your poetry and what’s in the truth of your heart. You’re not going to do everything perfectly, nor should you expect to. You do end up making mistakes both small and large (along with some epic ones). It’s OK. It all works out. Don’t beat yourself up. Make amends and move on. Yes, people get hurt along the way, including you. It’s all part of the process. Learn your lessons and don’t repeat your mistakes (not too many times anyway).

Be open to the nice guys. You know, the ones that like you the way you are. The guys who treat you well, laugh at your jokes, share in conversations and don’t tell you that nobody else will ever love you. Nice guys aren’t boring–I swear, and they’re not full of it. When you believe you’re valuable, you’ll believe others. Like I said, work on that self-love thing before you dive into anything with anyone else. In fact, ditch the boyfriend you’re with now. Don’t wait another six years. Trust me on this one.

One day, you’ll thank me in the same way I thank you for all you’ve given me. I’m proud of you and I love you completely.


May 17, 2010

Tabloid Talk, week 4

Week four of Tabloid Talk features more of the same:

Relationships rank high in the tabloid headlines: 5 references, including beginnings, endings and pregnancy.

Heidi Montag appears on both covers this week and the focus is on her lack of individual agency as related to her body project gone wild through the relentless pursuit of “perfection” by continuously modifying her body.

The “body,” focus on women’s beauty and their assorted body projects have been a leading theme week to week. Dina, of the Real Housewives of New Jersey, is featured to the far left of the Life & Style cover and explains “Why I got a breast reduction.” Juxtaposed next to Heidi Montag’s looming headline, “Forced into more plastic surgery,” Dina appears to be a claim to body sanity. After all, Heidi Montag has been turned into a circus freak, an emblem of the industry’s standard of beauty gone awry.

And, of course, in addition to body talk and a focus on heterosexual relationships, no tabloid would be complete without the girl feud. This week, the “nasty feud” is between Kate Hudson and Cameron Diaz. The main issue? A guy, natch, and Kate thinks its Cameron’s way of paying Kate back for Kate’s hook-up with Justin Timberlake.

Looking at the pop culture landscape, women are rarely shown in authentic female friendships or in solidarity with one another. Women seem to be endlessly competing with one another in hot pursuit of the beauty myth, an unrealistic image of perfection sold to women as the primary indicator of worth, and men. Of course, I have stated time and time again, the former serves to nab the latter.

This article reinforces these ideas about “mean girls” waging war:

There’s plenty of bad blood between the two professionally. “Kate thinks that Camewron is an aging old-lady actress struggling to remain sexy and relevant,” the insider says of Hudson…

In a cultural environment that prizes female beauty, youth is a primary component in the way that beauty is constructed. Taking aim at Cameron’s age is a classic example of the way in which women are devalued as they age and the derogatory comments hurled at one another in spite, envy and competition.

May 11, 2010

Tabloid talk, week 3

Filed under: Tabloid Talk — Tags: , , , , , — Melanie @ 1:14 pm

This week’s themes? More of the same.

Heterosexual relationships: 6 references. I included baby references in this category for a total of 3 baby stories and 3 relationship references ( 2 about Halle’s split and 1 about Jessica’s “new man”) equaling 6 under this category.

The remaining headlines feature the mean girl theme, this time the Kardashian sisters are feuding (the Kardashians have been featured on a total of 5 out of 7 covers in the last 3 weeks), and body image (Real Housewives of New Jersey, Teresa, shares her new “mom diet” and poses with her 8 month-old daughter who is wearing a pair of baby heels).

May 2, 2010

Halle Berry's 'expiration date' is up

Filed under: Body Image,Media — Tags: , , , , — Melanie @ 5:45 pm

Gabriel Aubry just dumped Halle Berry.  Apparently, she has peaked and is now well past her prime. As quoted in the Huffington Post on Friday:

“Gabriel just felt it wasn’t working anymore,” the source said. “When they were first together the 9-year age difference between them didn’t faze him, she was the most beautiful woman he had ever dated and he was totally in love. But as time went on he started feeling it more and more. Also, Gabriel started noticing other women, and being attracted to other, and he felt it just wasn’t right to stay with Halle in those circumstances.”

Despite the recent rash of over-40 celebs touted as hot and youthful such as Demi Moore, this is a prime example of the consistent ageism that exists for women in the entertainment industry. I have yet to hear of a younger woman dumping an older beau because the age difference became more pronounced and she began to notice other (presumably, younger) men.

That’s the implication in the statement above. “She was [italics mine] the most beautiful women he ever dated…” but time marched on he started to feel the 9-year age difference “more and more” and “began noticing other women.”

For women, our physical appearance and conformity to the dominant beauty norm (and adherence to the beauty myth), is the primary way we’re assigned value. This factor is even more heavily pronounced for women that make their livelihood in front of the public eye. It’s no wonder these women have difficulty resisting promises of youth in the form of expensive services and cosmetic surgery.

April 6, 2010

When Infidelity Becomes "Sex Addiction"

Originally posted at Ms. blog.

Cue: High-profile, charismatic man married to high-profile, attractive woman in picture-perfect marriage is outed by a long string of lovers claiming to have affairs (often lasting several years) that include everything from wild sex (often without protection) to pregnancies and abortions.

Response: The tabloids erupt in a media feeding frenzy and the public is outraged (usually because said man has cheated on attractive and likable wife with “trashy” “sluts“).

Solution: Claim sex addiction and enter sex rehabilitation.

Skeptical? Yeah, so am I.

Jesse James follows the lead of David Duchovny and Tiger Woods and enters sex rehab to deal “with personal issues” that include a bevy of mistresses and a publicity nightmare. It sounds more like old-fashioned infidelity to me.

Their cries of sex addiction and subsequent decisions to admit themselves into treatment centers is vaguely reminiscent of gay-bashing conservative mega-church pastor Ted Haggard’s decision to enter “gay camp” after his sexual encounters with a variety of male prostitutes were made public. Apparently, it worked. Haggard, his wife says, is once again straight and free from “homosexual compulsions.”

Sex rehab, gay camp–sounds like a convenient excuse to garner sympathy, shirk responsibility and restore one’s former reputation (oh, yeah, and their marriage to their wife).

Obviously I have not treated any of these men, but considering the fact only  six percent to eight percent of people in the United Sates qualify as sex addicts it’s hard to believe that these men automatically fall into that category. From where I’m sitting, their sexual exploits are behaviors encouraged in most men. After all, sexuality, sexual virility and having a lot of  heterosexual sex with a lot of women (often at the same time) is the cultural measure of a “real man,” and what is referred to as hegemonic masculinity [PDF] in academic circles.

The hyper-sexualized male is a standard fixture in pop culture and our culture in general. Why do you think The Forty Year-Old Virgin was made about a man?  It would have never been made about a woman. Women are supposed to be sexy, not sexual, and if a woman is a virgin at forty she’s probably just ugly or fat. If a man is a virgin at forty he must be gay or have a problem. Men are sexual beings, and if they’re not they’re not “real men.” Open any lad mag, like Maxim or FHM, and you’ll get loads of pictures of “hot babes” and articles on how to add notches to your bed post.

Married men aren’t entirely excluded from the sexual playground. It wasn’t historically uncommon for powerful married men to keep several mistresses in addition to their wives. In fact, it was encouraged. These days monogamy is heralded as sacred and normative, but if you’re going to cheat it should be kept on the down low. In fact, there’s plenty of advice and a plethora of gadgets that will help you cheat successfully. Take the iPhone app Tiger Text, which will help you “cover your tracks.” There are scores of websites and books that are willing to offer advice.

Are David Duchovny, Tiger Woods and Jesse James all sex addicts unable to restrain themselves? Possibly, but probably not. All three men share high-profile images, power and a sense of male privilege intersecting with the general expectations of “real men.” Their problem is probably not sex addiction but the fact that they got caught having affairs with “tawdry” women that marred their images in the eyes of the public that supports their lifestyles by consuming the pop culture products associated with their names.

To claim sex addiction is a cheap excuse that invalidates actual sex addicts, assumes the public is foolish enough to buy it and puts wives into the position of being grudge-holders if they don’t forgive their spouses for being “ill.” It also distracts us from having a public dialogue that examines the social construction of highly sexualized images of masculinity in our culture, which lies at the root of most of these cases.

Above left: Tiger Woods. Photo courtesy of / CC BY-SA 2.0

Above right: Jesse James. Photo courtesy of / CC BY 2.0

December 2, 2008

Nothing new here. It's a woman's fault.

Filed under: Gender — Tags: , , , , , , — Melanie @ 2:08 pm

Thanks, Ripsime.

Flashback to the Spitzer scandal. Ah, the long standing conversation about why men cheat.  No surprise, women are blamed for men’s infidelity.  Women, wives and mothers, specifically, have been blamed for problems and “failures” in relationships for decades.  After all, emotional work has been characterized as women’s work. Women have been relegated to the maintenance and security of the domestic sphere and this includes cultivating and nurturing relationships. It has been viewed as an inherent, “natural” female skill.

We have vaginas. Vaginas are empathetic, compassionate and loving. Because women have been in charge of this emotional work and providing emotional satisfaction, women have been blamed for men’s indiscretions, the “failure” of a relationship and blamed for the potential abuse/violence inflicted by men on to women.

The question has long been, “What did SHE (I) do wrong?”

Move on, Dr. Laura.  There’s so much wrong with your argument, don’t even know where to begin.