Real Talk: My body (tw: self-harming)

I’ve been thinking about my body a lot lately. My body has changed more drastically over the past year than it ever has since puberty. It’s left me with a lot of mixed feelings. So this is a post about my relationship with my body. I’m sure you have a complicated relationship with your body too. I encourage you to share it, because nothing ever makes me feel more confident and more sure than realizing others have lived a shared experience with me. I hope you feel the same way.

I’ve spent a long time being in love with my body, which makes me a bit of an anomaly. I was lucky, because everywhere I looked, magazines, movies, tv, there were bodies that looked just like mine. That’s not to say it was easy to love my body, but that I was lucky. Two separate things. I had no great, radical leap to make to body-love, just the wherewithal to deal with my body on my own terms. It takes a defiant attitude to consciously decide to love your body; there are so many people around us who’d really rather we not. It takes vigilance to remind ourselves how perfect we are. In the face of what seems like certain defeat against multi-billion dollar industries, and everyone we know who has been swayed to agree with them, it’s possible to fight, to look at our bodies and discover something perfect.

Start out perfect and don’t change a thing. Always accentuate your best features by pointing at them. And conceal your flaws by sucker punching anyone who has the audacity to mention them. – Miss Piggy

I’ve always loved what my body can do for me. When I was young, I was a synchronized swimmer and I loved that my body could do that. I loved that it could swim, run, jump, climb, bike, do whatever I wanted it to do and wouldn’t give up on me. I used to love pushing myself in workouts until I was sweating in the water, which is a strange sensation. I’ve never really thought about it, but doing synchronized swimming, practicing six days a week, it encouraged such a defined sense of my body. I guess that’s partially why I was able to make successful self-portraits: I always had a keen awareness of my body, it’s stamina, it’s position, it’s endurance, it’s power, it’s flexibility. My body worked for me.

When I was 18, I realized that my body was a desirous body; now not only did it work for me, but it also worked for others. When I realized people wanted me, I never questioned it or dismissed their want as impossible. I knew that I was white, thin, tall, and cissexual–all very desirous qualities in our society. Though I knew that, I didn’t really know until later the realities of people who do not have that body in my society. Someone needed to tell me, and I’m glad they did. I like to pretend that I would’ve realized it at some point, but I’m glad that the internet didn’t let it come to that and called me on this privilege so I could acknowledge it and learn about realities outside my own existence. When I was 20 I basically only thought about myself, and my own problems and dramas and tragedies. Better people were probably thinking about other things, but I wasn’t. I was trying not to hurt myself or anyone else in the process. During this time I either used my body to get things I wanted and shouldn’t have had, or spent time trying to destroy my body. My depression and self-harming were the worst around this time. It felt like my body was fighting me and I was continually fighting back. I was cutting often. Lying in the bath all day. My joints hurt. My muscles hurt. I was tense and on edge all the time. My body felt like it wasn’t mine, like it had abandoned me and left in its place some weaker, deficient model. But I kept pushing it to stay out longer, to sleep with more people, to drink faster, to drink more, to dance harder, to not fall apart for a little while more. It was all common things that twisted this relationship I had with my body that was once so perfect: school, professors, mental health, the subtle trauma of avoiding truth. These things happen to everyone and many people react the way I did. But I missed my body. I missed the way it would respond to me, and others.

Over time, my body was returned to me. Through stability and routine my body became what I remembered, long and lean and tight. When I see myself in my mind, I see the words “writhe” and “lithe” written along my body. These are words that I became used to associating with my body. My body now was comfortable, controlling, and powerful. It took no prisoners, but it took everyone. Married men, single women, co-workers, professors, younger or older, far away or close. My body was easy and I loved it that way. Giving myself to people who didn’t deserve it but who needed it, or just wanted it. Moving slow in flattering lights, parting lips to give better access. Quietly, and at times not so quietly, flaunting my favourite asset, my easiest strength, my ticket to basically anywhere. My body could be anyone’s but I never loved anyone more than I loved myself. (That only became a problem when my body refused to love the same people I did.)

Sometimes I would forget that there were other parts of me that deserved love too. I often forgot that I was smart, or that people would ever recognize that. My body is often an all-encompassing entity that takes over all other facets of my self. I think that may be my defense mechanism, when I’m afraid or unsure, out comes my body, front and centre. That I understand and control: my body and anything that comes with it. Speaking with my body always came easier to me than speaking with my voice. I was confident in my body, but rarely my ideas. I still work to find some sort of balance where every part of me hovers around the same level of greatness, and, more importantly, receives the same amount of gratitude from my self.

My body looked the same for almost 10 years, but recently, over the past year it’s changed. Today it’s soft, and slopes at steeper angles. This new body doesn’t writhe, and isn’t lithe. It commands, and is more present. To ride my body now would be more thrilling, coasting down curved inclines and climbing higher mounds of flesh. To feel me now would be to hold onto the parts of me that call to you, and get a good grip. It would be pushing into a body that rises up to meet you and then takes you down to warm, yielding depths.

But now my body is weak. I try not to let it bother me, but it does. I walk up three flights of stairs and feel tired. I can’t push myself the way I used to; carrying groceries has become difficult, and the prospect of having to move furniture (a habit I usually enjoy) seems unlikely. I want these curves to stay but I want my body to work for me again. To be strong and flexible, but still soft and inviting. So I’ve started doing things to work toward that, like never taking the TTC (which is actually a really relaxing lifestyle choice), forcing myself to leave the house every day, drinking eight glasses of water a day, I have a 20 minute work-out routine I do every day, and a 30-minute stretching routine. But honestly, I’m saying all this and just started two days ago. I’m a bit of a quitter so who knows how long it will last. I want my body to feel like it can kick someone’s ass again though. And still be this luscious thing that’s meant to be seen naked in morning light, you know?

My body is perfect and always has been. I weigh 155 pounds. I am 5’8″. My measurements are 37-29-37. It is not easy to love our bodies. It becomes easier when we see others with similar bodies, and similar characteristics we always referred to as our flaws. Actively seek out others with bodies that reflect yours. Surround yourself with people embracing their bodies, not hiding/transforming them for a product’s benefit. Find people loving their bodies, expressing their love of those bodies, and encouraging you to do the same. These are the people we need more of. Don’t let anyone tell you you need to be anything more (or less) than what you already are. Your body is perfect and always has been.

Self-portrait from July 2012

Good places to start learning ways to love your body:

Take a picture, it lasts longer: Faye Daniels

The incredible Faye Daniels at our latest shoot at the Gladstone in Toronto. You should click on this photo to view it full-size. It’s my favourite.

I met Faye Daniels a year ago. I booked a hotel room last August and she met me there to model for me. I’d luckily seen Faye’s modeling through Jack Scoresby reblogging her on his Tumblr, and when I discovered she lived in my area, I realized just how lucky I truly was. The woman is beautiful, sweet, adorable, and kind. As soon as she walked in everything was easy. Our conversation was easy, we worked well together, and the woman is a dream to photograph. Some people are so comfortable and knowledgeable in front of a camera that I don’t have to do anything at all. Just press the shutter. Faye is exactly like that. I give her no direction, just occasionally tell her, “Hold that for a minute!” And after that first shoot I ended up with a ton of photos that I really loved.

Faye from our first shoot in August 2011 at the King Edward Hotel in Toronto.

There are those people you come across in life who make you wonder how you went so long without knowing them. Faye is a few weeks older than I am. We both have brothers who are four years younger than us. We’ve had similar experiences with our families. We both have day jobs that have nothing to do with our art lives. But Faye is a thousand times more eloquent and lovely than I am. Spending time with her is fun and she makes me laugh, but also really listens when I talk and is extremely intelligent and self-aware.

Faye Daniels at the Gladstone in Toronto, July 2012.

We got together the other day to take pictures of one another, and though the threat of rain forced us to cancel our original plans of a photo-taking roadtrip, Faye booked a hotel room at the Gladstone and we shot there instead. The photos I took of Faye this time were just as beautiful as the first time. It’s easy with Faye. We had lunch and talked the entire time about our lives and the similarities and differences and it sort of felt like I’d known Faye for much longer than the one year that it’s been.

Faye laughing at the window in the Red Room of the Gladstone in Toronto.

Faye also took pictures of me at the Gladstone. I rarely model for other people and hadn’t done it for a very long time, but Faye didn’t give me much direction and just said “Do you.” So I did.

Me by Faye Daniels in the Red Room at the Gladstone. I do this pose a lot. It would be better if I were more flexible. Watching the Russian gymnasts today has inspired me. Ladies can bend.

It’s always fun to take pictures with someone who is both a model and a photographer because then you end up with photos like this:

From the Gladstone in July 2012.

From the King Edward Hotel, August 2011.

You know. Adorable photos. I <3 Faye Daniels.

Work it: It’s been very hot lately.

It’s actually raining as I type this, which I’m very happy about and may venture out into later because Matt is stranded at work with no umbrella and no change for the TTC so I’d meet him half way with an umbrella big enough for the both of us. However, for the past very many weeks it has been extremely hot. There hasn’t been a day that it’s felt like it was under 30. I don’t remember a summer being this hot for a while. Definitely the hottest I’ve spent while living in Toronto. And humid! What am I? In Windsor? Ha! (It was always hot and humid in Windsor.)

So humid that when I bring my camera outside from the cool, air conditioned environment of my apartment, the lens fogs up!

I am certainly no expert on fashion, nor do I spend much time keeping up on trends or creating my own. When it comes to fashion, I just like it to be practical with a bit of my own flair, not too much. I don’t like wearing rings because I don’t like them getting caught on things. I don’t wear dangly earrings for the same reasons (though I have many many pairs of stud earrings that I never leave the house without). I never wear bracelets or necklaces because sometimes the sounds of them jangling bothers me, or I get them caught on things. I don’t know what I’m doing that I’m continually getting attached to things but apparently it happens a lot! As much as I love the way heels look, I don’t like wearing them because I like to wear shoes I can run in. I like dresses in the summer because they provide a draft but I hate how so few come with pockets. I dislike purses because I don’t like carrying things, but there are certain things I bring with me everywhere to always be prepared so I keep buying purses hoping to find one that I like. (One day I should do one of those “What’s in my Bag” photos.)

I think my obsession with practicality is a result of Matt always being paranoid, my fear of the end of civilization (not really zombies, but anything could happen at anytime and society as we know it could collapse as people lose faith in their governments and revolt against the blatant injustices of our world…or something), and my desire to always be comfortable.

It’s a bit unfortunate because I really love femme and everything it is. Like, totally adore it and all my femme friends, and spend hours looking at femme fashion blogs, but aesthetically, it’s just not for me. Politically, however, I think a lot of what femme is about is giving yourself permission to enjoy things that others may believe weaken you, and also to celebrate the freedom that comes with that mindset. Embracing and owning your choices because you know you made them for yourself is what femme looks like to me. Sometimes I’m like, why am I not living more radically (in fact I have a post in the drafts that is about this notion) but I think it could be a radical idea to just realize what doesn’t work for you and what does and to do that.

So, in this hot weather, I want to be comfortable, and practical, and kinda badass looking. Oh, did I mention I’m unemployed? In the summer months, I don’t have a job and as a result, I don’t leave the house very often. So I gotta be honest with you, most days I don’t even get dressed. When I do leave, this summer has mostly been black short shorts and sheer black tops, or Star Wars shirts and jeans. (I got these jeans at Target a while back and I can’t stop wearing them. Is Mossimo my favourite brand? It could be. Remember when they used to have Mossimo at Zellers? It’s gotten better since then.)

I basically just look hot and awkward all summer. And very pasty.

I just want to stay cool. Temperature wise. I apply sunscreen like it’s going out of style. I never leave the house without putting it on any parts of my body that the sun can see. I just burn way too easily to risk it. I don’t like to sweat so I try to be as cool as possible. Yes, I’m one of those people who walks around with an umbrella when it’s very sunny out. It’s so practical!

Ha! I love how I label these sorts of posts as “fashion” posts and then ramble on about jeans from Target and how I like to be prepared for the apocalypse. If you want to read a real fashion blog, go read Julia’s blog or her tumblr. Julia really loves and appreciates fashion and you will like her, because she approaches fashion with a critical feminist eye and deconstructs the politics of fashion. She is very badass and I suggest you go and read what she has to say. While I am new at this whole real blogging thing and mostly just ramble a lot, Julia comes legit with substance, a point, and all the goods to back it up.

Those black jeans are also Mossimo. I’m secure in this choice. And look at Logan, being all cute and stuff.

I also just really like fall fashion, and sort of spend the summer months waiting for that first chilly night. I like sweaters over button ups. I like not wearing sandals. I like turtlenecks.I like hoodies. I like combat boots with cargo pants and sheer blouses. Sigh. Fall is so wonderful.

I’ll just spend the summer in a bathing suit and be done with it.

Because DAMN. Why wouldn’t I?

 

Blast that!: Music these days

Music and I have a very interesting relationship. When I was growing up, I just listened to whatever my parents listened to, which meant a lot of Eagles, Beatles, 70s music, and my dad told me he invented Buddy Holly. I was never really interested in exploring music for myself. I was interested in school, and swimming, and winning, and being Good. I guess these priorities just pushed music somewhere down the list around food and math. But like food, music eventually became more important to me. (Math never did.)

As I got older, I realized the only thing I required from music was that it was danceable. Besides that, I cared more about the people making the music, than the music. This is when I was about 14. So, you know, the Backstreet Boys were sooooo cute. And the Spice Girls were made of awesome (still true). After that, I was about 17, so obviously all the music I listened to had to be depressing and express the true darkness of my soul. I discovered The Cure and was pretty much set until I was 21.

At this time, I’m downloading all my music from Napster. I don’t buy a single CD for a decade. I refused to pay for music. At the time, I thought this was completely reasonable, and also I was a broke university student, so sue me. (No, don’t. Ah! Were you ever scared of that? That the government would find your massive ILLEGAL music collection and come after you? I was, so I always tried to hide it. Ha!) I had a large collection of music because I would download discographies (especially after Napster died and torrents rose up) and then never really listened to any of it, or forget about music I’d downloaded. The music I had was eclectic in terms of genre. I would listen to anything, didn’t really matter.

For a very long time, I never listened to any music. Like, I drove in silence. Thinking back on it, it’s really weird. But for about two years I didn’t listen to music. When Matt was in the car we listened to his favourite music (Pearl Jam and Bruce Springsteen). I was fine with that. When I was working, or editing photos, I put music on but never really registered it and if it stopped, I didn’t notice for a sometimes frighteningly long time.

Now, in this musical odyssey, I am what? 25? And I meet people who know a lot about music and I want to impress them, so I start listening to music. Music starts being to me what it has always been for so many other people; a personal soundtrack that links events and feelings of my life. I imbue songs with my own personal feelings and when I listen to certain songs now, it’s nostalgia times a billion. I listen to everything, downloading GBs of mixtapes in order to find stuff I like. Between Matt and I, we have no space left on our computer. We have to buy external hard drives for our music collections. I eventually throw out all my old CDs. And somewhere along the line, I start buying music. Once iTunes makes buying music easier than trying to find it with a google search, I start buying music. (Also after reading this open letter to Emily White at NPR about the music industry from David Lowery.) I like buying music, it makes me feel all righteous like ha! Look at me being all “for the artists” or some shit. I don’t know, I think I’m just lazy and now have a disposable income; where spending $9.99 on an album that syncs to all my devices automatically seems like a pretty fucking good deal, also–The Future!

The only problem I have is that now I buy music to see if I like it. I go through iTunes and just click on random things, in any genre. I listen to the excerpt iTunes posts and if it grabs me, I buy it. I might want to work on that.

I still like music that is danceable, and listen to music that suits my mood. And right now, my mood is hot and sweaty. How does that sound? Like this:

  1. Big Mouth – Santigold
  2. Zig Zag – M.I.A.
  3. Liquorice – Azealia Banks
  4. Move to the Ocean (Baauer Remix) – Brick + Mortar
  5. Barely Standing (ft. Datsik & Sabi) – Diplo
  6. You Know You Like It – AlunaGeorge
  7. 1 Thing (siik remix) – Amerie
  8. Thinkin Bout You – Frank Ocean

Real talk: Googling myself

Yo. For the last few days/weeks/months I’ve been all fucked up. Sometimes it’s easy to forget who you are and what you do when most of the people you interact with don’t understand it, or respect it, or approve of it. But I thought I could change their minds once they realize I’m a really good teacher! I can be really good at this!

But ultimately, type my name in to google image search and this is what you get:

That is me naked. The cover of my first book. A photoshopped image I made of myself getting fucked by Patrick Stewart. Pictures I took. Pictures other people have taken of me. And a particularly amazing photo of me dreaming of Kirk/Spock. All quality images. And when I look at this, my automatic reaction is “who are those other people? and why aren’t they me?”

I don’t want to not do this. I don’t want to not have people find me when they google my name. I don’t want a future employer to not see my naked body if they happen to google me. Because fuck, this is what I do.

And you noticed that. I’ve been getting emails and messages from people expressing their sadness at my decision to “self-edit.” I didn’t realize I had made that decision until you started recognizing it in my complete lack of doing anything at all.

If I stop posting online about sex and body-positivity and backing it all up with my own naked body then who’s benefiting? I thought I would. I thought people would stop talking about me at my workplace. I thought that I would be taken more seriously and would be seen as more professional and more capable. BUT THAT IS SO BACKWARDS. Fuck all that. That’s not benefiting anyone. It’s hurting people; it’s hurting that young girl who would like to see one more woman who tells her it’s okay to enjoy sex. It’s hurting that guy who never really thought about how making an offhand comment about how much his sister eats affects her. It’s hurting my mom who needs to be reminded she is beautiful and strong. It’s hurting every single person who sees what I do and the zero amount of fucks I give and thinks yeah, sure, I can do that too. I’m maybe giving myself too much credit, but it seems in this situation better to give myself too much than too little.

I was freaking out the other day wondering what the fuck I was doing and why I was doing it and applying for volunteer positions and knowing that if they google me, chances are I won’t get called. And Matt said, “Fuck them.” And I said, “Yeah?” And he said, “Yeah. There will be someone else, somewhere, who will google you and either not care, or want you more.”

And I knew that. I know this. But it’s easy to forget. It’s so easy to forget how awesome we are. Sometimes it’s hard to believe ourselves when so many things happening in our lives are pointing to a conclusion that is completely opposite to everything we’ve worked so hard to believe. We have the odds stacked against us: ad agencies trying to define our ideals for us, movie producers trying to tell us what love looks like, fashion designers trying to convince us what beautiful is, total strangers trying to shame us for our bodies, our choices, and our desires. Working within this framework, it’s hard to remember we are amazing.  It is hard for everyone, and it takes work and sometimes we get tired. We forget that we have a perfect GPA. Or we forget that we can knit sweaters, or draw comics, or bake cakes, or run a marathon, or qualify as sharpshooters, or program like a motherfucker. We get worn down and exhausted and we start to think that life might be easier if we lost 30 pounds, or dyed our hair back to a natural colour, or covered up our tattoos, or took out our piercings, or stopped telling people about our girlfriend, or if we stopped wearing sheer shirts, or if we got a regular job, or if we weren’t poor or black or women, or if we just tried to be normal. Fuck the people who make us feel that way. Fuck them.

I’m embarrassed that I gave people the right to make me feel that way. For the moments I have sat at home the last few months, paralyzed by my indecision and uncertainty based on the opinions of a few people, or the realities of the expectations of an industry, or the pervasive attitude of an entire culture, I feel embarrassed.

But it’s understandable and forgivable.

So I think I’ll just continue to get naked and be inappropriate, thanks.

Shaping the minds of tomorrow!: Setting goals

I have to make a portfolio. A big, massive portfolio to show whoever needs to see it that I am a worthy teacher and know what I’m talking about. This task is a little daunting to me. Mostly because I’m a little unsure of my worth as a teacher. I mean, I know my students like me, and I think I’m pretty good at it, but I feel like I need so much more than that. I already did the first part, which was to write my teaching philosophy, and now I’m on to the second bit–creating a list of goals I’d like to achieve.

I’ve kind of already done this, with my 30 Before 30, but I suppose I should come up with a few more teacher-specific goals. So, if you don’t mind, I’m just going to use this space here to think out loud for a minute.

Trying to figure out what you want to do with your life is hard. Really hard. I have changed career paths and life goals so many times I can’t hardly remember them all. The main problem I’ve always had is that I’ve never really loved and believed in any of the things I have done. I do love teaching, but it’s a constant struggle of reconciling that love with my tendency to tell everyone, fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me. Though because I’m so damn stubborn, I’m starting to think there could be a place for that in education, if done right. But part of me still longs for the day when I give myself the permission to fail on an extremely large scale and I write something. Really write something. I know to be a writer you need to write, and I blog, but I don’t really write anymore and it’s really depressing. So I’ve wanted to be a writer since I first learned my ABCs, but I’m too concerned with just being shit at it. And photography came easier so I did that. But I don’t even do that anymore! I am just failing as an artist, basically, so maybe I should just give that up. I write that and as I write it I know I never will, so at least there’s that.

Teaching feels like the most competitive field I’ve ever worked in. Maybe it’s because I’m a contract faculty and every four months I have to worry about whether or not I still have a job, but I continually feel the pressure to learn more and read more and push myself further and try to make myself stand out. Mind you, now that everyone at my college has seen me naked, maybe that will help! Ha! I’ve always been reluctant to throw myself in to a job in this way because I felt it meant I was giving up on my art. And it still feels that way, but maybe I can come to terms with the fact that I won’t ever be a working artist, but that doesn’t mean I can’t make art.

So where does that leave me with teaching? I know I want to get my masters, but ah, another dilemma. Do I want to get my masters in education, or literature? In a perfect world, I would do both. Because my life consists of both. But that’s an unrealistic goal I think, especially since both Matt and I are going to go back to school. I’m not sure it matters which one I get either, in terms of career advancement, I think I just need to have that piece of paper that says I did it, I have a masters. I’m even leaning toward believing that a masters in literature may serve me better in the long run because it may allow me to teach in a field more to my liking. (Not knocking on the school of business, but it’s not my first choice, you understand.)

I also want to be a really good teacher. That probably goes without saying, but I want my students to LOVE my class. I want them to enjoy coming every week and I want them to feel like they’re learning something, even if all we’re doing is grammar and punctuation. I don’t want any student to feel I’m not addressing their concerns, or that I’m not sympathetic to their circumstances. I want my students to want to give me their best work. I want to do whatever it takes to get to this dream-like level of perfect teacherness! I think a lot of it comes with experience, and as I’ve only been teaching for three years, I know I still have a lot (mostly everything) to learn.

[Sidenote: You know what would be a great thing in colleges? A mentor program. I know that because of all the competition between contract faculty and the nearly-non-existence of full-time positions that it would be a difficult program to implement, at least at my college, but I owe so much to the few teachers who took the time out of their busy schedules to help me, a 26 year old who had never taught before in her life. But then again, there is basically no communication between colleagues at my school, and I think it is due to the immense competition for full-time positions. But that's a whole other can of worms.]

Oh! That is a good goal–get hired somewhere full-time. With benefits. Oh, that sounds so beautiful. Full-time with benefits. Oh, yeah. That’s a huge goal.

Okay, let’s recap what I’ve got so far.

  • Get my masters.
  • Inspire students.
  • Get a full-time position.

I think I could also add:

  • Get a job in my preferred field.

I’d also like to change education in some way. But I believe I’m a ways off from that yet.

Can I just say that sometimes working within a field that has such traditional standards and high expectations kind of makes me feel like I’ve let some former version of myself down. I’m sitting in my house on a Saturday night writing about my education goals. Dude. DUDE.