EducationSkills

We live in a success-glorifying society. We also live in a world in which people now have nine-second attention spans. So what do we get? A life that demands increasingly profound achievements coupled with the need for immediate social recognition. We condition ourselves to perform at our best when we are successful, happy, and strong. So when life throws the unexpected at us, we second-guess ourselves, stumbling through negative situations and berating the choices we have made. Have you ever really considered why we are so fueled by success but shaken by setbacks? Or why it’s so difficult to go through life when we have hit a low point? One root cause of this is the underlying fear of weakness. An even bigger problem is the fact that people associate weakness with vulnerability. Breaking news, folks: they’re not the same thing.

Vulnerability ≠ Weakness

For those of us on the constant chase for perfection, it’s a call to action to recognize that there is a huge difference between being vulnerable and being weak. Rather than suppressing your vulnerability, own it. Moments of regret, anger, or confusion should not be seen as moments of weakness, but rather moments of redirection and potential for clarity. Re-think those times in your life when you felt like giving in or giving up. Sometimes it’s during those perceived “weaknesses” that we are exposing our true strength to overcome.

Forgiveness ≠ Weakness

Forgiveness should not be seen as acceptance of defeat. People think that if they give someone a second chance, or if they are the one asking for amends, that they are compromising their own beliefs. This is not the case, however, if you allow yourself to view forgiveness as a way to both take control of a situation and let go of negative feelings. “When you forgive, you in no way change the past, but you sure do change the future.” – Bernard Meltzer

Not Knowing What To Say ≠ Weakness

We’ve all been there. Whether it’s during an important meeting or an intimate conversation with a friend, we’re sometimes caught off guard or can’t verbalize our thoughts properly. Don’t beat yourself up over not having a scripted life. It doesn’t make you any less of an employee or a friend. It takes courage to acknowledge that you don’t know everything. Take the pressure off yourself of trying to always be polished and ready. Some of the most powerfully-minded people are the ones that can embrace quiet moments.

Making Mistakes ≠ Weakness

Imagine if we lived in a mistake-glorifying society. Mistakes would be recognized and worked through in a more transparent way. People would be just as candid about their failures as they are about their successes. When you mess up, when you do the wrong thing despite what your gut is telling you, when you thought you were being helpful, when you show up late or don’t show up at all, you feel like your weaknesses are on full display for the world to see. Realize that you can blame your weaknesses, saying you didn’t have the right resources. Or you can separate your vulnerability from weakness entirely and identify it with the strength to change instead. You may have done something wrong but you are ready and willing to learn from it.

Vulnerability = Strength to Change

“When we were children, we used to think that when we were grown-up we would no longer be vulnerable. But to grow up is to accept vulnerability…To be alive is to be vulnerable.”

– Madeleine L’Engle

Image: Dustin Scarpitti

Culture

As children, we love Halloween for the candy. As we grow up, the candy is still nice, but celebrating is about the costumes and the parties. Part of the fun of the holiday is the ability to dress up and step outside of yourself for a day. The type of costumes we wear have a way of changing as we get older. Do we wear the costume that reflects us or do we wear the popular costume? For girls in particular, the popular costume has become synonymous with the sexy costume. We live in an age where the popular costume comes with drawbacks.

The change in our costumes seems to represent an unspoken cultural shift. On Saturday Night Live‘s Halloween episode this year, they parodied a Halloween store commercial. They claimed to have “sexy Hunger Games costumes” including “Sexy Katniss Everdeen,” “Sexy Her Sister,” and more. Though there were a lot of jokes in this sketch, this one stuck out to me because it plays on the idea that every popular costume needs to be sexy. No one ever said that all young women should be dressing sexy for a holiday, but it is expected anyway. Likewise, I don’t think anyone says they want to be a sexy version of something on Halloween, but you kind of expect that is what a girl’s costume will be.

I personally have worn both types of costumes, but I started out with a more innocent one. I have always had long dark hair so I looked for a costume that could accentuate that. One year, I ended up going as Samara from The Ring. While I bought makeup from a Halloween store, most of my costume was an outfit that I put together myself. I loved the costume. I put a lot of work into it. I wore it freshmen year of high school and by senior year, people I didn’t even know still remembered that costume. I still have pictures of the costume and remember it fondly.

A few years later, I wore the “sexy” army girl costume. I wore it in a theme with my friends, and it was fun to coordinate costumes with them. I was legally an adult by the time I wore it but I was still living at home. The main downside of wearing the costume was walking past my parents as I left the house. I don’t know if I would have been allowed to wear that kind of costume before I was an adult. Regardless, it felt odd for them to see me like that. Another issue was that I got cold when I went out at night. Going out and being seen is the point of the costume. They are good outfits to look at but not very practical. All that said, it was a costume that I wore only one night. My costume choice did not have any long term effects on me. So, what’s the real problem?

I think the problem with the sexy costumes is about how we have accepted this role for women. There does not seem to be a male equivalent to the sexy costume. Nor is there any expectation for men to wear any particular kind of costume. In fact, the pictures on costume packaging suggest men wear clothes under their costumes. This makes the idea that women have to be sexy all the time all the more strange. As I mentioned, I made my costume when I went as Samara from The Ring. I bought my costume when I became sexy army girl. When I went shopping for a costume this year, there were two sexy women costumes for every regular one. It’s not impossible to find costumes that don’t show much skin, but the point is that this task should not be that hard. We have somehow accepted this to the point where it has become a trend. If you’re not in a couple’s costume, it’s as if you are advertising. Can you be called a tease for wearing these costumes or are you just a shopper? At what age are you pressured to go from bunny to sexy bunny? No one pays attention to this trend and that is what makes it dangerous.

In the end, the choice of how you celebrate Halloween is up to you. It’s a holiday! It should be fun. I don’t think you should worry about someone “slut shaming” you because you picked a certain costume. I do think a problem exists when the costume makes you feel bad when you are wearing it. There is a double standard in the way these costumes are marketed. If you are feeding into this by wearing a costume, you should think about how that makes you feel before you make a final purchase. Maybe you could embrace your creative side and make something all your own.

CultureInspiration

Gender identity is a complicated topic. It is very personal and there is a lot of media with conflicting information about what it is. Once upon a time, it was just “male” or “female,” but that has changed. High school and college are confusing times, and a lot of wrong or misunderstood information can hurt people who are figuring themselves out.

Tumblr and Facebook and a lot of other social media have embraced various gender identity situations. Even though labels aren’t always the best way to get information across (because it can lead to stereotyping and harmful actions), it can also help people find others in similar situations. For example, my school recently started a group for “Trans or Gender-Nonconforming,” and the club is meant to provide a safe space for students to discuss gender and personal experience.  Many schools and universities have such clubs, and people who attend the meetings often realize that they are not alone, and this is comforting. 

What is important is that people are happy with how they see themselves. Theoretically, someone shouldn’t be judged negatively for how they identify.

Even though there are environments that allow for people to be a-gender, bigender, pangender, gender fluid, transgender, and many others, there are also places that are unaccustomed to this variety. It may be because of certain local or social customs. It may be because of misinformation. Either way, such environments can be a scary place for someone who is trying to understand themselves or others. The fear of being judged, shunned, bullied, hurt, or worse because of how they identify shouldn’t’ be an issue, but it is.

Like sexual orientation, gender identity is now becoming a topic that is being more socially acceptable to talk about. I hope that our society is able to transition to a place in which tolerance, acceptance, and freedom are words that can be associated with gender identity. I hope that people are able to accept others and themselves. I hope people can be free and open-minded.

It is okay to not be sure right now and it is okay to explore and try to understand. Growing is a part of change, and change is a part of growing.

If the situation now is difficult or scary, that’s okay. There will be new places and new people. Things get better. Love yourself and accept others. Remember that being happy and safe are the most important things.

Image: le vent le cri

CultureHealth

“Beauty comes at a price.” There’s a sentence we have all heard, without doubt. Physical beauty, especially, comes at such a price. Waxing, bleaching, plucking, shaving, and threading…things all us ladies (and some men) have spent countless hours at the salon doing.  But as Americans, what’s our take on beauty? What’s physically attractive, and what’s not physically attractive? Who decides these rules? How do American standards of pulchritude compare to those of the Eastern world?

I am currently in India, and I had the chance to interview several people about what they believe is beautiful in a woman.  Here are a few perspectives from the East:

“When I marry the girl of my dreams, I want her to be as fair as the moon…lips as red as cherries, and very black hair. I think a girl like that would be very attractive.”

“Milky white skin. Like Kareena Kapoor and Tammanah Bhatia, the Bollywood actresses. Intellect would be a great addition to those looks, though.”

“As a girl, I’ve always been told to use fairness products. They’re supposed to elicit the true beauty out of me or something. I don’t know though, they don’t really work. But that’s what everyone wants: whiteness.”

I interviewed 12 people, but I had to stop because everyone said the same thing: fairness, whiteness, and lightness. Everybody seemed to be in love with the concept of being light-skinned. In fact, what I like to call the “Fairness Industry,” is booming not only in India, but in Asia as well. Take a look at these creams and their purpose:

beauty cream

Phrases like “healthy white” and “fair and lovely” capsize the mind at first glance. It almost seems as though being white and fair is associated with being “healthy” and “lovely.” Is this a social stigma? Do young Asian girls have to be fair-skinned to be beautiful? Skin bleaching products such as creams and gels certainly do exist in the USA, but they are nowhere near as popular there as they are in Asia as a whole. Where does the idea of equating attractiveness to fairness stem from?

Back in the day, those who toiled in the fields and struggled in blistering heat possessed a darker skin tone than those who remained indoors, living in luxury and royalty. Having darker pigmentation became easily associated with being poor or part of the working class. Skin color became associated with wealth, and those who were more affluent were also seen as more desirable.

Let’s zoom forward to present-day Bollywood. Recently, the Hindi film “Gori Tere Pyaar Mein” came out. The title literally translates to “In your love, fair-skinned girl.” Why not make a film called “Kali Tere Pyaar Mein,” or “In your love, dark-skinned girl?” Once again, movies in India emphasize the glowing fairness of girl as beautiful, leaving no room for the majority of the olive to tan to dark-complexioned people. With subliminal messages like this, those of us who are not fair are almost forced to believe that we are not as attractive to our white counterparts. I can provide a personal example of this, as one of my North Indian friends (who is quite fair in complexion) teased me for being a dark-toned South Indian (we inhabit areas closer to the equator, so what do you expect?) once. Since when is being more pigmented a sin? Why are fair people automatically deemed beautiful, while darker skinned girls struggle to earn that title?

What about America? What do American girls believe will make them look beautiful? The answer is essentially the opposite of Asia’s: America wants tan girls. The tanning industry prospers in America: fake tans, tanning beds, and other “tan-in-a-can” products are quite the profitable investment. When summer comes around, millions of girls rush to the beach to bronze themselves. I’ve seen girls from my high school spend their paychecks on tanning beds in the winter…yes, in the winter, when there’s barely any sun and being slightly pale is a commonplace occurrence. It’s ludicrous to see what our young girls do their skin…whether they want to bleach it or bronze it. I had several Caucasian friends tell me “Wow, I wish I was tan like you. Your tan lasts year-round.” It feels weird to be castigated by one community for being tan, and complimented by another for the same thing. Why can’t we all just be proud of our original skin color?

However, there is one characteristic of beauty that seemed to be popular in India and America: skinniness. Perhaps the struggle to be slim is a global epidemic, as well. Dieting pills, weight-loss programs, V-shapers…they’re everywhere. Magazines, movies, retweets made by several of my guy friends that I follow on Twitter all depict skinny actresses and models. As girls, we are constantly surrounded by sources that tell us that skinny is right and that people need to see our collarbones…or else we are just not beautiful.

And once we gain that skinny body through hours at gym and spent dieting, we need to show it off, don’t we? Let’s take a detour and play the skin game. The more skin you reveal, the sexier you are. That sentence should’ve made most of us feel somewhat uncomfortable. We live in a society where the female body is such a weird object: people want to see girls naked, but once they do, certain girls who exposed their bodies are slut-shamed. Girls are heavily imposed with a double standard in this sense. What do you want her to do? Take her clothes off? Will you still respect her after? These are the relevant questions that you should ask yourself if you’re interested in a particular girl. Find those answers and don’t dive into a cesspool of hypocrisy.

So girls, what makes you beautiful? Your complexion? Your weight? The amount of clothes you wear? Truly, there is no right answer. Society tries to oppress you with what it believes to be beautiful. Certain people assume that there is only one ideal look for beauty, whereas in reality, that’s just not that case. We need to celebrate our diversity. We can do so by not succumbing to a certain weight and pigmentation. If you want to wear a religious veil and cover your body, you should be allowed to do so. If you want to keep your original skin color, you should be allowed to do so. If you want to eat that juicy sandwich from McDonald’s, you should be allowed to do so. If you want to embrace your originality and the looks you were born with, you should be allowed to do so.

Your youth shouldn’t be spent on altering yourself physically to gain acceptance from society. It should be more about educating yourself and being happy. Society will always say one thing or the other, but it’s up to us to choose what we want to listen to.

Image: The Resurgence

Culture

With the U.S. patent office preparing to strip the Washington Redskins of their trademark, the team that has received much backlash might lose its ability to solely own the Redskins logo.

For years, American sports teams have come under fire for their mascots or team names that follow culturally insensitive caricatures of the Native American race. Stanford, Dartmouth, and Marquette are just a few schools who changed their trademarks in response to complaints from the Native American community. However, teams like the Washington Redskins still perpetuate these Native American stereotypes by fighting for their trademarks and claiming that they are honoring the culture through their use of an infamous racial slur.

Whatever intentions the Redskins hoped to make, it does not discount the fact that their actions preserve older viewpoints that were used to justify the oppression of tribes in the Old West. For example, in old Western films Native Americans were either portrayed as noble savages that existed as sidekicks to the John Wayne-esque hero of the film, or as bloodthirsty savages who tore their way through western American civilization, leaving carnage and despair in their wake. So these people were only ever viewed as those worthy of assimilation into white-society or as beasts to be sent for slaughter. These two portrayals are not only constrictive of the Native American culture, they are also still used constantly in American sports.

And, to an extent, American society has tried to make up for these indiscretions through film and media. Some Westerns such as The Searchers attempted to make the idea of miscegenation between Native Americans and Caucasians more palatable for society and hoped to show discrimination against tribes as a thing of the past. Also, in the 1970’s, the Keep America Beautiful campaign utilized The Crying Indian as a way to show Americans the downside of littering. But with all things aside, both forms of media exploited the bloodthirsty and noble savage institutions. Why can’t media portray Native Americans like they do Caucasians, as limitless beings?

One of the few accurate portrayals of Native Americans in film is in Smoke Signals. The film follows young Victor and his friend Thomas, two Coeur D’Alene Indians, as he comes to terms with his father’s death. But what is underneath the surface of the film is the idea of reconciliation with the past; the idea that sons can mend what fathers have broken.

And I believe that idea is the solution to all of this uproar with American sports teams like the Redskins. By using a person or race as a mascot, you are reducing them to the status of an animal- considering that is what most mascots are. We have done away with most logos that marginalize African Americans, so what is different about the Native Americans? And as the Washington Redskins prepare for the appeals court in order to protect their patent on their mascot, I hope people keep in mind the fact that this racial slur is a commonality of the past. As the present and future of society, it is vital to be culturally sensitive and to fix what social issues past civilizations threw to the wayside.

Image: Business Insider