Wednesday, June 7, 2017

A Short Break

All I can say about this image is ACCURATE, I can't think of a better visual representation of myself right now. 

It's been a bit quiet here for the past couple of months as I've been too busy descending into madness in my own Parisian version of The Bell Jar writing my grad thesis and trying to catch up with everything. And I will be taking an official hiatus from updating until I move back home. 

There are a couple of reasons for this, which I did want to talk about. 

When I decided to have a lifestyle-ish blog, I knew that I wasn't the type of person who could talk about expensive candles or fluffy pillows or the perfect shirt for spring or whatever else lifestyle bloggers are supposed to talk about. I could never pretend to be something I'm not, not on nor off the internet. I think this is pretty obvious by the fact that I live in Paris and choose to openly speak about how unhappy I am, instead of pretending I spend my days having picnics under the Eiffel Tower. So far, I think I've been pretty true to myself and it is my hope that whatever I say is relatable to someone, that would win the battle in my book. 

At the same time, I have been having a really challenging year. Every day I wake up and I wonder what happened to the person I used to be. I seem to not be able to find the drive that made me such an impeccable, committed student in the past and it has created this overwhelming feeling of disappointment that I can't seem to shake off. During this time off, I think I finally got it. It's not that I am a different person-- although 2017 me has been through five years' worth of challenging experiences that 20something-year old me did not know yet-- it's that I don't believe in what I'm doing as strongly as I did in the past. The all-nighters, the endless club meetings, the AP exams, the papers, the 12hr days at the office, the finals, whatever else I faced in my professional and academic life in the past was driven by an unshakeable desire to succeed, to accomplish something I believed in. This hasn't been the case this year as I've grown increasingly frustrated with the academic system I'm trapped in, a city I don't understand, and the Debbie Downer realization that I've worked on France-related things for a decade and I don't know what the next step is. 

Which brings me to this blog. On November 2016, I knew that our lives would change and that this new administration would push me back towards a politics-driven life that I tried to put behind me. Thankfully, I'm not the only one and there are so many wonderful organizations that are being created as a response to the threat this administration poses to certain groups and human rights within our country. I'm still trying to figure out what I want to do, how I can be useful, and what I can help build that would contribute to this resistance effort.  Most of all, I never want to spend another minute of my life working towards something meaningless, because it feels awful and empty. 

So I will take some time to do some soul searching, close this Paris chapter of my life, and hope to be back soon. In the meantime, I'd like to share some of my favorite entries that I have written for this blog. They have been challenging, cathartic, and mostly very honest. 

à bientôt, xx

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Pretty for a Big Girl

Venus with an Organist and Cupid

The conversation on diversity and representation has gone from quiet elevator chatter to screaming-words-to-each-other-at-the-club decibel levels. It's exciting, it's refreshing, it tries to be inclusive, and as with most things, it's also problematic. The body positivity movement, in particular, has attracted such conflict that a new concept is trying to rise in its place: Body Neutrality. 

If there is a topic that absolutely terrifies me, it's talking about my body. I've been wanting to write a story about this conversation for so long and never quite mustered the courage. Last week, while looking at videos about body positivity and the "plus size" models leading it, the comments I came across were so incredibly hurtful and hateful that it was the final push I needed. Perhaps we all need to be reminded that regardless of what we have for lunch-- we are all humans and should be treated as such. 

Blessed with Hispanic genes and a healthy childhood diet of straight up carbs and delicious things, I was never the athletic type. I went to an all-girl Catholic school and wore a skirt that went well past my knees for years. Until I moved to the U.S, I wasn't aware of the fact that my entire existence as a girl was to try to resemble pop stars, attract the male students in my class, and act in a real-life Mean Girls experience. It wasn't long until the girls and the boys in my middle school very kindly reminded me that if the desired beauty type was at point A, I was at point B, and not even google maps could save me.  Looking back at this in my late 20s fills me with deep sadness, not for that younger version of me but for the way we somehow teach children to criticize and diminish others. It's not at all shocking that this same nasty behavior only gets worse as we age. 

From that moment on, my life has been a blur of ridiculous diets, lots of tears in dressing rooms, an incredibly complicated relationship with food, and an even worse relationship with my own body. Most days, I feel like a prisoner of my own body and I don't know where the keys are. I feel ashamed and guilty about the insecurities I feel have rubbed off on my sister growing up. As we grew up together, I often felt the pressure of being a role model to her and always coming up short. 

For me, the most important message of the body positivity movement is for women to look at their bodies through their own eyes and not through the image that others have given us of ourselves. We see our bodies through a lens that is so bent out of shape by all the images we see daily, by whatever the beauty standard is at the time (I've lived through both the stick-thin beauty ideal from the Nicole Richie/ Paris Hilton/Rachel Zoe days, and now through the fake booty/curves craze), by what people's idea of beauty is (whether it be those close to us or complete strangers). 

Some of my classic all time favorite one-liners about my body are:
- (While at the emergency room) Male Nurse: "If you lost weight, you'd have a line of boys at your door"

- A former boss: I saw you post a photo of a crêpe on Instagram, should you be eating that?
- "If people looked at your Instagram salads, they'd think you're so skinny!"
- (While running at the park in front of my house) Complete Stranger: "You're doing great! Keep running! You're so pretty, you shouldn't be fat"
- "You are sooooo pretty, you're not like other fat girls, you're like so pretty and you dress so well too!"
I've always been marveled at how people will be so quick to comment about your body, while I've never made a comment about someone's intellect along the lines of "You're so gorgeous, if only you weren't so dumb. Have you thought about reading a book? You truly are too gorgeous to be this unintelligent!" mostly because it is not our place to make hurtful remarks about others, especially under the guise of "compliments". And the scariest part is how quickly we can become caught up in faux compliment game and in trying to prove that we are not like the other fatties, we eat really well, we work out! In every situation mentioned above, I have smiled and nodded, instead of standing up for myself and my body. 

Last year, This American Life had an episode titled Tell Me I'm Fat, which compiled stories about weight and bodies from authors Lindy West, Roxane Gay, and Elna Baker. Gay talked about the different kinds of overweightness, labeling heavy but still acceptable women as "Lane Bryant fat" which is a criticism that a lot of women who feel misrepresented by the body positivity movement can identify with. It was Elna Baker's story that made me cry for the entire weekend after I listened to this podcast. She touched upon my two biggest fears- the idea that every rejection and misfortune you face is related to your body, and the thought that even after the weight, our brains will never be able to shake off all the pain and years of criticism. Till this day, Baker is plagued by the idea that her husband would've never spoken to her, loved her, and eventually married her, if she were still "Fat Elna".

The toxic thing about hating your body to such an incredible level is that you forget who you are, your accomplishments, your worth. 

When I first moved to Paris, I had drinks with someone I had worked with and I mentioned how shocked I was at all the doors I was taking in the face here. In Miami, holding doors and being courteous was embedded in the macho Latino culture, it wasn't an act of courtship, it was... manners? She quickly let me know that the problem was that we weren't good looking and made sure to mention that her friends who were beautiful always got the door held for them. I would've been offended, but I was too busy feeling so bad for someone who thought she didn't deserve a simple courtesy, such as holding a door for another human being, just because she has deemed herself not beautiful, like her beautiful friends. 

But I couldn't blame her for thinking this. Every single time my love for someone has not been reciprocated, I'm immediately plagued with the idea that the problem is that I'm not beautiful enough. Why are we so willing to be our own worst enemy? And why do we forget all the things that make us incredible? With a single rejection, I am willing to forget that I was strong and hard working enough to start my life from scratch in two different countries, and in two different languages, that two decades ago I was a little girl from a communist country and that I didn't have a particularly promising future, that I'm intelligent and kind, and I think I'm hilarious so that totally counts. Sometimes I find myself being so incredibly mean to myself that I can barely remember who the hell I am anymore. 

If there is anything that we should applaud and cherish from a movement that hopes to make women accept and love themselves and their bodies is that representation is so important, it shows us images of people who got there before us and who show us that we can get there too. Not all the women leading it may look exactly like each one of us, and no one is asking us to be excited about our bodies all of the time (although, why shouldn't we be?), but it is trying so hard to overturn all the negative imaging we've been fed over time. 

And if there is anything I hope to learn and remember every time I'm being mean to myself, it's that our bodies are so incredible. Bodies heal themselves, grow, learn different patterns, have the ability to get stronger, change shape, create and birth other humans, give you pleasure, what else can we ask them to do? The only thing that bodies cannot do is hold all the value of a human life on its surface because who we are and what we're worth goes way beyond our bodies. 

I can't stop others from making comments about my body, I can't stop my thin friends from complaining about their bodies (which indirectly hurts my feelings) because I understand we are all trying to accept and love ourselves in our own way, but if there is one thing under my control, it's the way I choose to think about myself. There is a brilliant meme out there that says something like, be kind to yourself, you can't get anything done if you have someone being mean to you all the time. Let's stop becoming our own 6th grade bullies and start being kinder to ourselves. 

Sunday, March 12, 2017

On Quitting

20th Century Fox
When I was in high school, I had a brief stint as a Buddhist. I was friends with the theater kids and we were all vegetarian and free spirited. After a while, I started eating chicken again and gave up Buddhism altogether (the superficial version I had in my head anyway), the idea that giving up desires would make me happier seem ludicrous, the only time I was ever happy was when I was fighting for something I wanted. I’m almost solely drawn to the hunt, the fight, and move on to the next project once I get it. Even in fictional characters, my heroines have always been the same: overachieving, focused, tragically perfectionist, superficially cold, relentless, and terribly unapologetic. 

First children, immigrant children, we don’t have the choice to put away desire and look the other way. We grow up watching our parents fight for everything they give us, we feel we have to do just as much, if not more, to be worthy of their sacrifices. Our internal dialogue is something that would come out of Eli Pope’s mouth, we have to be twice as good to have half of what others have. No line in Scandal has ever resonated so much with me. 

The number of times I have quit something in my life are very few. Generally speaking, quitting never seems to be an option for me; but then I moved to Paris and have quietly tried to hold together a life that I worked so hard for and thought I wanted. It has turned out to be nothing I want, and it has rather filled me with self-doubt, regret, and loneliness. This whole time I thought I had won the challenge, I had claimed my prize and all that was left to do was stand on the podium and smile. Instead, I've spent countless hours trying to figure out a plan B, a way out, how to go back where I came from? How to salvage what's left? and because I'm not a quitter, how to make it all work?

On a typical, dark, Paris afternoon, I texted a friend: "I wish I could grab my bags and get off my life as if it was a train. Start again, do it all over." Then two weeks later, a friend told me that giving up things that are not making you happy is not quitting, it's about your life, you have to do what's good for you, doing something you like is what will make your life grow. Although I couldn't agree more, I can't shake the deep shame that quitting brings me. A sucker for accountability, how do you not feel like an utter failure when your decisions don't pan out?

The fact that what I so desperately want to quit is Paris doesn't help either. A city so coveted by so many, so romanticized in films and litterature, how could I be so incredibly mediocre as to not appreciate it? I could answer that in a million different ways and it'll never get through. This city has a way of seducing you, even when you've decided you're done. When I walk home after seeing friends, I feel completely intoxicated by the sounds, the views, the lights that draw you in like a moth, it's whispering "you dumbass mosquito" in my ear and I still drunkenly stumble towards it. It's during these nights where I feel the most guilt, the most shame. The rest of the time, I just feel alone and misunderstood

My first week in Paris, I was so homesick and regretful that I spent nights on my friend's couch trying to figure out a way to go back home and explain to my parents that I had changed my mind. I tried to come up with an apology that would make up for all the emotional stress I had made them feel with my move, all the times I rolled my eyes at the ways we did things, and all the times I ever made them feel like I was running away from them. I couldn't come up with any and eventually managed to make it work. I found a certain calling in my gender research, I got a job, and I made friends. I was back on track and I silenced the quitting voices.

Then they came back. 

Sometimes I wish I could go back in time, stay in pre-law (I could be fighting for the rights of those affected by our current administration, I tell myself), gotten engaged like my friends back home. I would've made better choices, I should've done with what I had instead of thinking I was above it.

But here's the thing-- if I go back, I lose everything I learned, about myself, about the world around me, I lose people I love and appreciate deeply, many of whom I only met because I was working towards this insane goal of living in France. I lose professional experiences that shaped me, I lose walks in sunny winter days, and drinks, and laughs. I lose heartbreaks that made me stronger, I lose situations that reminded me of who I was and who I wanted to be above everything else. And yet, in a way, if I quit I'll be quitting all of that too. I can't shake off the feeling that when you walk away, you erase a little bit of you. 

So I won't quit. And I've finally figured out why. It's not about shame, or regret, or loneliness. In a way, I am doing something which helps me grow, I'm standing my ground, I'm finishing what I started. Maybe I could pack my bags and do something else that will feel me with joy, but what has always made me the happiest was pushing on. So that's what I'm doing, I'm pushing on because I have a lot of work left to do. 

How do you feel about quitting? I'd love to hear your thoughts.