Boys Beauty and Brains


Light/Dark
July 5, 2010, 9:15 pm
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“Duct tape is like the force. It has a light side and a dark side. And it holds the universe together.”

To everything there is light and dark. In all things there is good and evil. For everything we must find a balance.

Duct Tape

Boys: You’ve heard it said about 10,000 times–“relationships are about compromise.” But what does compromise truly mean? How much is too much, and how much is too little? Where is the dividing line between compromising to make peace, and compromising a part of yourself or your values? Where is the light, where is the dark?

When it comes to guys, dating, and relationships, there’s compromise when it comes to little things, like deciding where to eat (one of you wants Thai, the other wants pizza, and you either decide to go for Thai this time and pizza next time, decide on neither while both stew angrily over whatever leftovers are in the fridge, each get your own preferred meal alone, or go to CPK where you can get a Thai-themed pizza replete with peanut sauce). Then, there’s compromise when it comes to big things, like choosing the qualities, must haves, and must-have-nots you look for in a boyfriend.

Photo: Thai Pizza

Bottom line? No guys has it all–and it’s foolish to expect otherwise. Myth: there is such a thing as “the perfect guy.” You hear that no one is perfect, and yet you seem to expect your dream man to have it all–smart, athletic, funny, kind, ambitious, hot, generous, knows how to cook, cliff dives for fun on weekends, owns four husky dogs, started his own business, takes grandma out to lunch every Saturday, earns 200k a year, drives a Bentley, looooves babies, adopts African orphans, is best friends with the Senator, knows four languages including a rare dialect of Tahitian, dresses like an Abercrombie model, is a sex god in bed but has only slept with enough women to count on one and a half hands and oh yeah did we mention he’s next in line for the throne of a small European principality?

Prince Charming

Look, it’s important to have standards, and if that means he’s a non-smoker or has a college degree or wants children one day or plays banjo in a country music band than so be it and good for you. There’s no sense lowering your standards for someone you know you’ll never truly dig in the long run, and then you’re just wasting your time, not to mention his. But it’s important to keep your standards in check and truly separate the absolute MUST-HAVES from the “‘it’d be nice but it’s not a dealbreaker”-s. That’s where the compromise comes in, and that’s what’s important to understand and learn. And as cheesy as it sounds, it’s not a bad idea to write a list detailing these attributes and really be concrete about your likes and dislikes when it comes to the wonderful world of males.

Girl with checklist
[Hmm…]

And unfortunately, just being vague about it, like “he must be smart,” or “he must be cute,” is not going to cut it. What does smart mean to you? Does that mean educated–he’s gone to a 4 year college and completed a major? Does that mean naturally intelligent–he has street smarts and knows how to get ahead in life? Does that mean bookish and knowledgable–he can teach you new things about the world? What about “cute”?

While you might find yourself attracted to all sorts over your life–tall, short, big, little, long-haired, short-haired, blond, brunette, white, black, Asian, purple, whatever, etc.–you can probably think of a few physical qualities that are genuine dealbreakers for you. If you’re 5’10 and aren’t interested in dating guys who are 5’6, than so be it. Is it shallow? Maybe, but who cares? If you could never be happy with someone short, than it’s better to be a little shallow but honest and up-front than give false hope on that first blind date with the short dude your Aunt Linda set you up with even though you specifically told her you only like a guy you can wear heels around. And maybe staying fit and healthy is really important to you, and you couldn’t see yourself with someone who was too skinny or too fat, who never hit the gym or had an addiction to Doritos. Again, while it’s generally a good idea to keep your mind open to all possibilities, I also think it’s better to be truly honest about what you are looking for in a guy, even if what you are truly looking for is slightly on the superficial side.

Muscles
[“Superficial Muscles” — literally (haha…yes, pun intended for all science/medical geeks out there)]

True Story: last summer when I was in my newly single dating fling and even dared briefly set up an online dating profile, I set up a clear rule where I’d only date guys in my age range, aka: guys in their twenties. I was 22 and had just graduated from university, so I wasn’t looking for a college freshman or an established businessman in his 30s. I just wanted a dude I could relate to who was at the same stage in life, and that meant age 20-25 ideally, but I was open to considering 25-29 depending on the guy. Also, and this is where the potentially shallow part comes in–I’m just not physically attracted to guys that look significantly older than me, i.e. guys with receding hairlines, wrinkles, or aged skin (as I am a huge skincare addict and, much like the athlete who only wants to date fit people, am like the cosmetologist who only wants to date youthful looking people). I was friends with an awesome guy friend at Berkeley who was 28 and pretty cool and attractive, but when I was 21 his crow’s feet were a total turn-off for me, and I knew they still would be at 22. So I was honest about my age rule, and didn’t feel the slightest bit guilty about hitting delete when 38-year-old men hit on me online–was that ageist? I don’t think so. I wasn’t discriminating against the elderly for a job or the right to rent an apartment. I had just been totally honest and upfront with both myself and them that they weren’t for me romantically, no way Jose, there was no use trying, sayonara and peace out dude.

No Way Jose

So, after a myriad of bad dates and wading through your typical trial and error to discover what I could deal with, and what I couldn’t, I finally wrote down a detailed list for myself of my “ideal” boyfriend on November, 1st 2009. About two weeks later, I ended up kissing the guy of my dreams–a guy who mysteriously seemed to match every single one of my “must-haves”, because the world is funny and coincidental like that sometimes–and we’ve been together ever since. Was it fate? Naw, I don’t believe in any sort of cosmic destiny. But was I creating my own fate? Maybe. Maybe, by writing down what I wanted in a guy, it helped me articulate and realize what had been there all along. I had been friends first with my current beau, and maybe by writing down my list and realizing he fit the bill my subconscious was telling me to go for it. Maybe it pays to be the arbitrator of your own destiny.

So here it is, My Personal UNEDITED Boyfriend List from 2009 (in no particular order):

Dream Guy

1. Sense of humor – they must be funny, like to laugh, and able to laugh at themselves!

2. Caring – they must be sensitive souls who in a non-cheesy way are capable of letting me into their heart and bothering to demonstrate how much I mean to them (this is what separates the wheat from the chaff when it comes to “nice.” Nice is borrrrring, caring is not)

2.5, Cute – well I’m sorry but if the physical attraction isn’t there…I mean I’m not saying they have to be bloody gorgeous (though that always helps) but just, y’know, they shower regularly and don’t eat at Micky D’s every day and don’t wear socks with sandals (erlack)

3. Friendly – they don’t have to be the life of the party but they cannot be a sadsack loserface with no mates who can’t carry on a conversation or be personable

4. Ambitious – again, they don’t have to be investment bankers but like, I’m not interested in dating someone who is getting straight C’s at community college, as snobby as that sounds. Look, I am a very educated driven person so I just want someone who can match me (or almost match me).

5. Intelligent – this goes without saying, and relates to the funny and the ambitious (you need to be smart for both of those other things to work)

*bonus*

6. Talented – this isn’t a necessary requirement but if a guy has some special skill, whether it’s basketball, cello, or feeding fish to dolphins, it always makes them more interesting as a well-rounded and unique person.

Checklist

Note that on my list I cover the basics like funny, smart, educated, etc., but do so in specific ways. Also, I think I strike a nice balance between selective but not picky. What is “sense of humor”? Do they have to me a SNL comedian, no. But do they have the ability to laugh, including at themselves? Yes. What is friendly? The most charming dude at the party, no. But can they carry on a conversation and talk in a personable fashion? Yes. See what I mean? (I like how I put “cute” as a .5 and talent as a “bonus,” by the way. Really shows my quirky priorities, ha.)

Get specific about your list. Get specific about what you’re willing to compromise on, and what you won’t. For example, I will never date an alcoholic, even if he hits every single thing on my checklist times 10, but I might date a Republican (note, I said MIGHT) if he’s items #1-6 of the above. That way, I know what is my light, and what is my dark, what I can live, what I can’t live without. What’s your list?

Beauty: In my quest for maintaining excellent health and beauty, I often browse the internet and do independent research into the science behind the skincare revolution. While I hardly claim to be an expert, and I certainly have a ton more research to do, two chemical names I’ve come across recently in my studied fit perfectly into my theme of light vs. dark. Their names are BORAX and MATRIXYL. With their ominous and impressive sounding “x” sounds, these two words might sound like advanced chemistry 501, but allow me to break it down for you.

Borax (also known as sodium borate decahydrate; sodium pyroborate; birax; sodium tetraborate decahydrate; sodium borate; sodium biborate, and others) is a natural mineral compound (Na2B4O7 * 10H2O) that was discovered over 4,000 years ago. Often buried deep underground, it is usually mined near the surface in places such as Death Valley, California. It has numerous industrial uses, from a natural laundry booster, multipurpose cleaner, fungicide, preservative, insecticide, herbicide, disinfectant, dessicant, to a key ingredient in making ‘slime’. Borax crystals are odorless, whitish (can have various color impurities), and alkaline, and they are not flammable nor reactive. While it is not acutely toxic, it is not exactly what one would call “safe,” (as enough of it in one dose, though enough is absolutely a large amount, will certainly kill you). Less fatally, simple exposure can cause respiratory and skin irritation, while ingestion may cause gastrointestinal distress like nausea, persistent vomiting, abdominal pain, and diarrhea.

Borax Crystal
[Borax…yum]

Sadly, despite its toxicity, borax is actually found in COSMETICS and SKINCARE products. Yes, that’s right, industrial strength cleaning solution could be in YOUR face wash. Lovely. In fact, a reassessment of boric acid/borax by the United States Environmental Protection Agency Office of Pesticide Programs found potential developmental toxicity (especially effects on the testes) when used as an eye wash or on abraded skin, which is known to be especially toxic to infants, especially after repeated use because of its slow elimination rate (Source: Goodman and Gillman’s: The Pharmacological Basis of Therapeutics, 6th edition, chapter on Antiseptics and Disinfectants, page 971). Yes let’s all wash babies with toxic chemicals–that is the sad sorry world we live in where there is NO GOVERNMENT REGULATION of the cosmetics and skincare industry.

Borax

What does this mean for you, the consumer? That means my personal advice is the READ THE LABEL and if anything so much as “borax” or one of its derivatives jumps out at you, RUN the other away. Put down the bottle, and back away as fast as you. A perfect and terrifyingly unlikely example? Certain so-called “natural” products, such as Burt’s Bees Naturally Nourishing Milk & Honey Body Lotion. That’s right. According to the ingredient label on the bottle from the product’s company website, this product contains:

Ingredients: water, helianthus annuus (sunflower) seed oil, glycerin, cocos nucifera (coconut) oil, stearic acid, beeswax, fragrance, non-fat dry milk, honey, tocopherol, aloe barbadensis leaf juice, citrus aurantium dulcis (orange) peel wax, rosmarinus officinalis (rosemary) leaf oil, beta-carotene, vegetable oil, glucose, xanthan gum, sucrose stearate, sodium borate, glucose oxidase, lactoperoxidase (source: Burt’s Bees Website)

Burt's Bees

Look, I used to LOVE Burt’s Bees, and be all about “natural” skin care. But I have since learned that “natural” does not necessarily mean “better.” Does this mean ALL Burt’s Bees products are contaminated with this junk? Of course not. Does this mean all natural products have natural yet toxic substitutes? Of course not. But does it mean you should always READ THE LABEL of everything you buy? Once, twice, and thrice times–YES. I rest my case.

Moving on to some cheerier news, I’ve heard rave things about MATRIXYL lately, and though I have not personally had the chance to test the product out yet, I fully intend to do so soon on my next trip to Sephora (aka: headquarters.)

Matrixly

Matrixyl is the trademark name for palmitoyl pentapeptide-3, a peptide molecule found in the latest generation of high-end anti wrinkle skin care products, which allegedly stimulates collagen production in the skin (loss of collagen is a prime cause of wrinkles). Matrixyl is a lipopeptide, a fatty acid mixed with amino acids, that according to some clinical studies, was shown to:

* increase overall collagen synthesis by up to 117%
* increase collagen IV synthesis by up to 327%
* increase hyaluronic acid synthesis by up to 267%*

*Hyaluronic acid is a key glycan which can hold up to a thousand times its weight in water. (FYI: Cellulose is a kind of glycan)

In other words, this products claims to help skin look younger.

The latest version, Matrixyl 3000, is a slightly different version of the same peptide. Matrixyl is Palmitoyl Penta (or Oligo) peptide; Matrixyl 3000 is this ingredient plus Palmitoyl Tetra (or Tera) peptide (Source)

These are some brand products which contain Matrixyl:

Hylexin
StriVectin-SD
DDF Wrinkle Relax
Peter Roth Antiaging Cellular Repair
Avon Ageless Results Renewing Day Cream SPF 15
Avon Ageless Results Overnight Renewing Cream
Anew Alternative Intensive Age Treatment

Anew

For a reasonably priced $20-30 for 1.7 oz. of Anew’s Alternative Intensive Age Treatment, sign me up. I’ll let you know how I like it. In the meanwhile, I encourage you to do some research of your own and explore the skincare options at your disposal. Is Matrixly a miracle cure or a lot of hype? Hard to tell until I try it. But I like knowing it exists, that it may be an answer, that I have something to explore. I will stay away from the dark, from the Boraxes of the world, and venture into the light, into the Matrixyls of the world…

Brains: Ah, group studying. Studying as a group. Studying with a partner. Studying with more than one person present. Studying with someone other than you, yourself, and I. What could be more collegiate? After watching almost the entire first season of “Community” in less than a week’s time, I can’t help but flash back to my Berkeley days of yore and the late-night study pow-wows nestled around the warm glow of our collective cell phones as we exchanged numbers right before leaving the library in case one of us had a last minute midnight question to text before the midterm at 8AM the next day. Good times.

Community

However, while most study groups/partners are benign, innocent, friendly folks with nothing but the best intentions, I have heard far too many cautionary tales and horror stories to ever be truly 100% trusting of a brand new study buddy. From stealing notebooks to deliberately writing the wrong answers on flashcards, we’ve all heard rumors of crazy overly competitive peers (often rumored to be the pre-kids, pre-med, pre-business, pre-law, but of course, liberal arts students are not without their competitive streak as well) taking study sabotage a step too far. And while most of us can cheerily report safely making it out the chem lab door without our lab partner “accidentally” setting a Bunsen burner to our semester’s worth of meticulously highlighted notes, far more of us face subtle intrigue in the form of the “study buddy frenemy.”

Frenemy Shirt

She’s the friend of a friend you met on the second day of class and never really hit it off per say, but always sat on the other side of your best friend so it’d be awkward not to at least make small talk with her before the professor arrives. He’s the cute guy who once asked you for a pencil and you gave him your favorite blue mechanical .7mm lead one, then when he forgot to return it after class you told yourself the upshot was he’ll always think of you whenever he uses it. She’s the slacker pal who never goes to class but always claims she has a good excuse, like she was protesting the use of MGO tomatoes in the dining hall or hooking up with the hot guy in Spanish class to improve her “accento.” He’s the frat dude who never takes notes but goes on as many dates as it takes with the smartest girls in the class to pass with a C- before mysteriously losing all their numbers over winter break in a freak snowboarding-cell phone-little kid in a parka ski accident. You know the type.

Frenemies
[Grrr…]

It starts seemingly innocent enough: they just ask to borrow your notes or textbook, and promise to return it within 24 hours. Say it’s a Friday afternoon after class when the midterm is on Monday. They claim you’re probably going out Friday night–a social butterfly like you? Phwoar, watch out–so it’s not like you’ll be needing your study guide or highlighted glossary Friday night anyway, right? It’s not like you’re some nerd whose big date night plans entail studying in the library and then getting Fro-yo, pssh. So why don’t they just borrow your book or notes for Friday night, let THEM be the “nerd,” and they’ll give it right back Saturday morning? That way you have all day Saturday and Sunday to study, no problem. What could be easier, right?

Notebook

So you agree. You say sure. Against your better judgment, a little nagging voice in your head claims, but sure, why not. It’s just one night. Your best friend Jenny swears Veronica is cool and will definitely return it Saturday morning no problem. When reaching for your purple notebook, that cute guy Evan you’ve had your eye on kinda sorted maybe possibly hinted at inviting you to a basketball game some time (if ‘my team is playing our mortal enemy, a bunch of dudes from the house are gonna all kick it together Saturday night to watch the destruction’ counts as an invite…) You think you’ll be a good, kind, generous person, help a brother or a sister out.

Help

Well, you know the story by now I’m sure. Saturday morning rolls around and Veronica and Evan are MIA. You think they just overslept and will probably contact you by Saturday afternoon at the latest. Well by the time Saturday afternoon and at least 4 voicemails and 10 text messages have rolled around, there is still no word of your perfectly highlighted textbook or meticulously scribed notes. You start freaking out and researching things on Wikipedia to make up for the lack of your own personal study aides at hand, but it’s just not the same. You curse yourself for forgetting to ask Veronica and Evan where they physically live so you can hunt down your notebook yourself, and even resort to vaguely researching the school’s website in the hope they have some sort of student database you can hack into. By the time Sunday morning rolls around you are running on 4 hours of stress sleep and crying to your mother that you “hate” college and all the terrible people it contains. You get creative with your studying, and maybe you visit the library and wander the halls aimlessly to see if there’s anyone in your biology class you can bum an over the shoulder textbook book peek at like a homeless person scrounging the dumpsters outside the local hot dog stand after a football game. You remember that one chick Maria you talked to about the syllabus in week 1 and frantically search your phone to see if you got her number, even daring to contemplate pulling a fast one on her and indefinitely “borrowing” her notes for the rest of the afternoon–but no, you will not sink so low. You will not do to Maria what Veronica or Evan did to you, you would rather take the fail. Or at least explain the situation to your professor, beg for an extension, and hope for mercy.

Frantic

And then it happens. Monday morning rolls around, and Veronica and Evan stroll into class like a million bucks, casually toss you your crumpled textbook and notes with a cheeky, “thanks. Sorry I missed your calls. My cell phone like, completely died. Good luck on the exam!” And you sit there, a writhing ball of fury, an indescribable, insurmountable, unimaginable, hurricane of anger and rage. You break all 7 of your back-up pencils (none of which are your favorite color blue, because Evan is using the blue one) as you smash their stupid pencil heads into every wrong answer of your super ridiculously hard multiple choice exam which you are completely unprepared for. And when the one and only essay in your biology exam roles around, you laugh at the terrible, terrible irony of the question: “500 words. Explain using relevant examples from class Darwin’s theory of ‘Survival of the Fitness.'”

Darwin

Fortunately, this story does not have to happen to you, nor the ones you love. While I am all about sharing is caring, helping a fellow student out, and teaching others to cement your own knowledge, I have very strict guidelines in place for preventing such a study disaster. Even though it may sound paranoid, I had a strict “no lent notebooks or textbooks” rule in college I stuck by no matter how many Veronicas and Evans asked me–and as a stereotypically obvious “smart girl” or “nerd” I was often asked a lot. Of course, you don’t want to come off as an anti-social, selfish, overly competitive jerk to your fellow peers who ask for a helping hand, especially as they may be the Jennys and Marias of the world who genuinely will return your study aids, you never know. So here are some great ways to compromise, keep your eye on the prize and your notebook in your hand, while still not coming off as a complete jerkwad:

Protect

1) First, explain your “no lending” policy in terms even the simplest, slickest pre-lawyer can understand and not wiggle out of. You can try either:

a) the white lie
or
b) the hard truth.

a) The white lie consists of something like this, ahem: “Actually, believe it or not, I WAS planning on studying a little bit Friday night before I went out. I was going to make flashcards and bring them with me to the bar. Then every time I got an answer right I’ll allow myself a sip of beer. I know it probably sounds lame, but even studying is more fun when you make a drinking game out of it, haha.” In other words, whatever day they ask to borrow your books, slyly claiming you won’t need them, make up some excuse for why yes, you actually DO need them at that exact moment in time. And hey, if you’re a super cool nerd like me, you might actually not even be white lieing when you mention that drinking game…next person who can tell me what an amoeba is gets a lime in their Corona 😉

Study Girl

b) The hard truth consists of laying down the law, but in a generalized fashion as to avoid offense. It goes something like this, “actually, I know this might sound a little paranoid or weird, but I don’t lend my notebooks or textbooks to anyone, not even my best friend. It’s nothing personal, it’s just policy.” Then, when they inevitably start out with “oh I totally understand…” but quickly devolve into begging, pleading, and “but I’m totally cool, you don’t have to worry about ME,” you counter with a story that either happened to you or that you heard happened to a friend–feel free to use the story of Veronica or Evan, if you like, because then you’re truly not lieing when you say, “yeah this one time my friend Mike lent his notebook, which by the way had notes in it for like every single one of his classes, not just English, to his friend and the dude accidentally dropped it in his apartment pool! I am so not saying you are going to drop my notes in a pool, but it just makes me nervous lending them to anyone after hearing that. Accidents happen, you know?”

By blaming an “accident” you are no way implying or accusing them of intending to indefinitely borrow your books. It’s nothing person they can argue with. What are they going to say, they are immune to all accidents?? They can’t possibly predict if a meteor is going to strike their study table dead or a campus security guard will confiscate their backpack which had your notes in it due to a fishy suspicious odor of marijuana drifting through the air. By keeping the law 1) impersonal/general and potential dangers 2) accidental and not intended, you get to keep what’s rightfully yours–YOUR notes that YOU took all semester long–while still avoiding hurting their feelings or allowing them to manipulate you.

Of course, if laying down the “no lending” policy is too much confrontation for you, even in these neutralized forms, there are other alternatives you can explore.

Hard Truth

2) Invite them to join you. Give them an exact location and time so the onus is on them to join you IF they are truly serious about studying. Say, “well I can’t lend you my notebook tonight, but I’ll tell you what. I’ll be at the East Asian library tomorrow at 12 to study for my Japanese final. I’ll bring all my bio notes you can review next to me while I’m practicing my kanji. Meet me by the Samarai swords at 11:45 and we’ll grab some lattes.” That way, you’re still being perfectly nice and amicable by allowing them to borrow your notes…within eyeshot.

Library

Beware, however, the frenemy who tries to make you change YOUR study plans to accommodate them. Beware the frenemy who claims they’ll be too hungover to get up that early or they live too far from the library, why don’t you swing by their apartment across town? Don’t fall for this trap! Don’t be guilted into changing your plans! YOU are the one in control here, YOU are the one holding all the ace cards. Why should you spend 27 minutes walking across campus to their dinky apartment where their obnoxious roommate will play World of Warcraft–not on mute–for 4 consecutive hours? Why should you be forced to go to the library at 4PM instead of noon when all your other friends were planning on a study break in the afternoon to the local coffeehouse where the cute barista works and had invited you along? Why should YOU sacrifice for this ingrate? If they can’t make it to the library by 12PM sharp, tough shit, their loss. You’re already being nice enough by offering to lug your bio book to the East Asian library in the first place. You don’t need to go above or beyond that to still be a decent person. And if they try and take advantage of your natural kindness, feel free to borrow one of those Samurai sword and go Meiji Era on their asses.

Sword

3) One of the easiest options which I certainly practiced on multiple occasions was taking a trip to your local Kinkos or CopyCentral. Immediately after class, ask them to accompany you to the nearest copy machine henceforth, and allow them to pay for xerox copies of your notebook with you present. That way, they can have their own set of notes, and you don’t have to deal with them calling you every half hour on Saturday while they claim they got stuck on a houseboat but will make it the Samurai wing within the hour, and can you please just wait another 4 hours and 37 minutes for them to show up? Note: if they try and get you to pay for any of the cost of xeroxing, resist the urge to laugh in their face like a crazed hyena. I doubt any frenemy would be THAT stupid (although if they haven’t taken notes all semester, anything goes…) but if they do, simply smile and claim you left all your cash and your credit card at home. Whoops.

Copy

Indeed, my second semester of senior year, I literally copied an entire semester’s worth of notes–every single day after class–for a fellow classmate named April, which felt wonderful. Of course, April is probably the most deserving student I could possibly think of, and a true inspiration to college students everywhere, nothing like the frenmies of which I’m speaking o. April is a lanky, sweet, doe-eyed, clever, and brave African-American girl who loves soccer and has a smile that could light up the universe. She also has a very differently-abled body. She transports herself around campus via an extremely high-tech motorized wheelchair with an elaborate system of arm, leg, and neck rests, as she cannot control most physical movements, including even her mouth. As she can not physically speak (though she can make expressive moaning sounds and an extremely interesting laughter that always made me smile), or completely control the opening and closing of her mouth (meaning a towel tucked into her shirt functions as a 24/7 drool catcher), she primarily communicates with her peers through her wheelchair’s voicebox. As she has limited use of hand movement (just enough to laboriously push a joystick that meticulously types every letter of her voicebox, taking over a minute to say a simple sentence that would take most people 11 seconds) she could not physically take notes herself.

Therefore, for $75 a semester and profound sense of doing my moral duty I volunteered to be her official note-taker, which meant attending class every single day without fail, copying Tuesday’s notes (for free in the Disabled Students Center) in time for Thursday’s class, hole punching and placing them in her notebook in the backpack attached to her wheelchair, and though it was not technically in the job description, getting together with her in the Student Learning Center and her dorm room to study with her for the exam and help her with her papers.

Button

I probably sound really pretentious saying this, but what a freaking eye-opening and inspirational experience THAT was. If your school has a volunteer disabled student note-taker program, I highly recommend signing up!

First of all, it’s great incentive to force you to go to class. I mean, I go to class anyway, but for people who seem to have issues with attendance, nothing says guilt like a girl in a wheelchair disappointed in her lack of notes. Secondly, you’re helping someone while helping yourself, so it’s a win-win situation. Thirdly, though I never had the need to put it on my resume, if you were ever applying to grad school, it might not be a bad thing to mention. Fourthly–you will learn far more than just the material in class.

Disabled Sign

There’s no other way to say it–April made people in my class nervous. Students avoided her like she was an outbreak of genital herpes. No one wanted to sit near her, she always had a ring of empty desks surrounding her that only got filled in when the overflow meant some students had to sit on the floor. No one invited her to be in their group when the professor called for in-class group discussion. No one ever commented on her in-class commentary which took five minutes to pronounce. Well, everyone except me. For some reason, and I honestly cannot tell you why, I wasn’t phased or scared or nervous around April. I deliberately sat next to her, deliberately invited her to join my group discussions, deliberately formed a rebuttal to her in-class commentary–just like she was any other student. I didn’t go out of my way with pity or sympathy, fuck that. My attitude towards her was nonchalant but warm. It was, “yo dude, what’s up? How was your weekend? Man did I eat like I swear the BIGGEST slide of pizza known to humanity Friday night. I had pepperoni on top of pepperoni! What did you get upta?” I just treated her like she was a normal student. And I didn’t give her my notes like I was doing her some huge favor she should bow down and be grateful for. And when I had to go to my next class, I didn’t dither around apologizing 20 times for not having time to hold open the door for her (there was an automatic button she pressed that opened it for her) I just said “s’later dude.” It seriously was not.a.big.freaking.deal, like everyone other moron in the universe seemed to think it was.

Friends

And the crazy thing was, the more I accepted her, the more–slowly, very, very slowly–the other kids started accepting her. Sure, she never was the first to be surrounded by classmates, but she no longer was necessarily the last. Our professor once even talked to me in office hours about it. She said something like, “Nikki, I want to thank you for what you’ve done for April.” I looked at her with a confused stare. The notetaking? Well, sure. But I had technically volunteered for that on day one, so. No thanks required. “No, the way you treat her. She makes the other kids in class nervous. It’s not that they’re trying to be jerks, or trying to be intolerant, or trying to exclude her. They just don’t know how to react to her, so they don’t react at all.” And you know something? She was right.

Look at me in the eye

Lots of time people aren’t necessarily trying to be jerks. These freshmen kids (yeah, I was taking “introduction to Children’s Literature” my last semester of college, so what? I deserved an easy A class after 3.5 years of Shakespeare and Medieval Lit Crit!) weren’t prejudiced, they were just dumb and helpless and confused. Rather than risk “offending” someone so different, someone they couldn’t relate to, they rather do nothing at all, which ironically was probably far more damaging than anything offensive they could have possibly said. Even I was forced to come face to face with my own unknown prejudices when interacting and chatting with April. Even I faced my own “offensive” comment.

I’ll never forget the poignant moment of realization, the kind kids write college essays about and movies spotlight with swaying orchestral music and climactic lighting. It was a Tuesday morning like so many Tuesday mornings when I asked her about her weekend, like usual. She told me she was excited because her soccer team made it to the semi-nationals. “Oh, what team do you root for?” I asked her. No, she explained, my team. My team that I play in.

Dude. The girl played soccer. She couldn’t walk, write, or move her mouth without drooling, yet she was a freaking kickass athlete whose soccer team made it to the semi-nationals. Talk about BLOW MY FREAKING MIND.

Wheelchair Soccer

She showed me pictures of her in uniform with her team on her facebook (yeah that’s right, April had facebook like every other college student in the universe, where she posted pictures of her friends, updated her status about the crappy food in the dining hall, and facebook chatted in class when she was supposed to be paying attention). Man, those photos were awesome. They completely blew all my preconceptions away. Despite all my so-called self-entitled pride about treating April “just like any other student,” it had never occurred to me that she played sports. Why not? Sports are a perfectly normal collegiate activity. But my brain had obviously never connected those dots of possibility. In a profound life lesson that meant more to me than any midterm exam taken that year I came face to face with my own ignorance, and all because I volunteered to be a student note-taker. April became an inspiration to me, someone I held up as the ideal of tenacity and bravery. If a girl like April, with everything imaginable in the universe stacked against her, could make it to the hollowed halls of a prestigious institution like UC Berkeley, and not only attend school but thrive in school, and not only thrive in school but thrive with a smile on her face and a soccer ball in her heart, what excuse did the rest of us have for not giving it everything we got??

All life is Bravery

I often think of April and wonder what she’s up to, if she ever completed that Children’s Lit paper I helped her start, if she graduated and crossed the stage yet, if her team won the nationals. I check in on her Facebook from time to time, note her new soccer uniform and maybe write to say hi on her wall. I think of a poem I discovered in her dorm room once when we were studying, where the teacher wrote “I wish ____,” “I dream_____”, “I feel_____”, and April filled in the blanks with heartbreaking words like, “I wish I was normal, I dream I can walk, I feel sad and lonely.” Her humanity was more raw than anything I have personally encountered in 23 years of life. And I wish her well when I think of her, and when life gets me down, I remember her for what she is, and what she always will be: the bravest girl I will ever know.

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Loose Women
May 31, 2010, 6:30 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , ,

Boys: Have you heard of the “Madonna-Whore” complex? In Freudian psychoanalysis, it is a psychological complex found in human males, whereby patients raised by a cold and distant mother (or some other similar childhood dysfunction) will often as adults court women with mother-like qualities, aspiring to fulfill a need for intimacy unmet in childhood. When the future wife becomes a mother or “Madonna” figure, she can no longer be an object of sexual attraction, as doing so would be a form of psychological incest. Thus forever separating love and sex in the male mind, the patient can only express a pure asexual love for his chaste innocent virginal wife, and reserve all tortured sexual feelings for “bad” or “dirty” or “loose” women. In other words, he loves his wife too much to have sex with her.

Playboy Madonna

This complex plays out in the courtship stage as well, as when the victim begins dating a woman, he will test her–try to seduce her, notice how much flesh she reveals, etc.–to see whether she is “good” or ”easy,” since he automatically believes most women are whores, and is skeptical of any woman proclaiming not to be a whore. If she indeed proves to be sexually experienced when they begin dating, she will immediately move into the category of whore, and be forever scorned and cast out of his adoration. The absolutely confounding part is that even if she’s a virgin when they begin dating, but then has sex with him too quickly, by his personal measure, she will move from the category of potential wife into the category of whore. Once he decides she’s easy, she’ll be suitable for sex but nothing more, even if he’s the one deflowering her.

Deflower

This is exactly the psychological complex played out in the well-known Shakesperian play “Othello,” whereby after sleeping with his beautiful virginal Madonna-like wife Desdemona, The Moore suddenly loses all husbandly affection for her, and is easily convinced by his right-hand man Iago that she is a dirty cheating whore, finally murdering her before realizing his fatal error. Sex, love, jealousy, the play has it all. Hundreds of years before Freud came along, Shakespeare made a brilliant observation about a niche male sexuality, and channeled it into one of his most well-read and well-beloved tragedies. One that sums up a common experience for women, who, though not literally murdered, are often socially murdered after sleeping with the wrong guy.

Othello
[An artist’s rendition of “Othello” and the murder of Desdemona]

Moving out of the psychological and literary realms, in popular culture, the “Madonna-Whore” complex refers to the phenomenon where women and girls are seen by society either as chaste, pure, prudish virgins, or wild, promiscuous, dirty sluts. It is the polarization of good/bad when screened and judged through sexual terms. It is the brutal name-calling and bullying that haunts young women everywhere. Take any high school setting, and inevitably you will see this phenomenon played out, in the way the cheerleaders are automatically deemed sluts, the nerdy girls automatically deemed prudes, and few girls existing in any sort of happy in between. Yes, this is an extreme, but take a moment to ponder its prevalence in society. Take a moment to remember that group of teenage guys you overheard at the mall talking about their classmates or pretty passerbyers, automatically dividing and labeling women and girls into two camps, into the sluts and the prudes. When is the last time you heard a young male proclaim to his friends, “well, she wouldn’t have random anonymous sex with me at the party, so she’s definitely not a slut, but she’s not really a prude either, because I know for a fact she does have sex when in a relationship, which seems all together fair to me. Yes, that girl from the party, now there’s a nice well-balanced girl with a healthy but not over-driven sexuality.” Uh-huh. That’s what I thought.

Madonna-Whore

Look. You and me and the intelligent enlightened rational citizen of humanity know that such polarization is utterly unnecessary and absurd, but the rest of society unfortunately doesn’t always agree. Take, for example, the way virginity is held up on a platter as the end all and be all of virtue for so many young girls in American society, especially in the more religious or politically conservative parts of the country. While I certainly think it is a good idea to wait until one is completely comfortable to have sex for the first time (whether or not that first time occurs before or after a marriage ceremony), not for any moral reason but because doing so appears psychologically healthy to me, I don’t value virginity as a “treasure” to be saved and gifted until marriage, or even more importantly, as the ultimate measure of who is “good” and who is not.

Virgin Sign
[Pro-Abstinence Education Propaganda Sign]

For some reason (probably a combination of historical precedent and religious influence), morality seems to be inextricably linked to sexuality, especially in the Bible Belt of America, so that girls who “give it up” too quickly are somehow equated as “bad people,” castigated and called “whores,” and girls that pledge their virginity until the so-called sanctity of marriage are cast with a pearly pallor of goodness that, no matter their other crimes, holds them up as examples of “good” young women. In reality, while there are certain absolute moral laws relating to sex (“thou shall not rape”), morality and sexuality are not, and should not be, equated in a one to one ratio as the ultimate de facto decider of one’s position on a moral spectrum. Who you are as a person should not be defined by when and with whom you first had sex. Not only are the two 99% unrelated, but setting up such judgments sets a dangerous precedent for inflicting even more pain on young victims of rape, incest, molestation, etc. Not only is this reality damaging for the everyday woman, it’s particularly damaging for the abused woman.

I'll Wait Ring

I have no problem with individual choice and at the end of the day it is a woman’s decision to wait until marriage or not to have sex. Any woman who makes this choice, good for her. I want to be clear that I in no way think ill of those who chose to wait simply because they are making a person decision on their own (though I do think from a practical point of view they are probably missing out on a lot of great sex). But I am not talking about individual choice, I am talking about society and social pressure. I am talking about the way society judges women’s character based on something that has nothing to do with how truly good of a person they are. A virgin who waits until they’re 34 to have sex might still drown puppies in their bathtub for shits and giggles, while a woman who lost her virginity at 15 might spend every weekend rescuing puppies from the highway to give to lonely elderly neighbors who wish to adopt them. This is obviously an extreme example, but it doesn’t change the fact that the status of one’s virginity loss has next to nothing to do with how good or moral a person it is, and it bothers me tremendously that certain parts and people in society do not seem to understand this.

Immoral Women

Furthermore, setting up virginity as a litmus test for morality sets a dangerous stomping ground for those young sexually abused victims who then suffer from additional guilt and psychological torture. If a girl feels she is only pure and noble and good so long as she is a virgin, and then she is no longer a virgin due to a non-consenting act, she might feel she somehow “deserved” to be raped, molested, etc. because she was not a good person, and therefore her immorality was externalized in the act of rape, etc. Even in cases of rape, there are many people who still see a girl as unworthy or impure due to her lack of virginity, whether or not it was her choice. There are fundamentalist Islamic countries in Africa and the Middle East that stone a rape victim to death for her “crimes.” This insane reality is one of the most frustrating examples of sexism I have ever encountered, and something I simply can’t abide.

Rape Victim Stoned
[Rape Victim Stoned]

Ultimately, there are many wonderful men who do not suffer from the Madonna-Whore Complex, and who can value a woman’s sexuality for what is: simply another extension of her personality, another part of who she is, but not the whole part, and certainly not the end all and be all litmus test for her morality. There are many people who do not divide women into “sluts” and “prudes,” “virgins” and “whores.” But sadly, there are many people who still seem the world in these limited black and white terms. So if someone calls you a name you don’t deserve, if someone calls you a slut, a prude, a virgin, a whore, a whatever, just remember that it is THEIR problem, not yours. Just remember that they don’t know the real you, they have no way of knowing who you are as a person, and their judgments are completely ridiculous and unfounded. Just remember that who you are as a person is NOT defined by what you do in the privacy of your own bedroom. And fuck anyone who says otherwise.

Beauty: “Loose woman”–slut, whore, hussy, adulteress, fornicatress, strumpet, trollop, jade, slag, we’ve all heard these charming variations of derogatory terms used to stifle women’s sexuality. But did you know the true origins of the expression “loose woman”? The expression actually traces back to the Victorian era, when women were horrifically bound by suffocating corsets that narrowed their waists in a supposedly aesthetically pleasing fashion, but had the unfortunate side-effect of nearly suffocating them, permanently damaging and mutilating their bone and muscle structures, and making childbirth and labor far more dangerous (corsets were worn even during pregnancy, causing a whole host of related medical problems.)

Corset Ad

First utilized in 1810, the 19th century kicked off to an uber fashionable start with a metal, whalebone and wadding garment that pushed up and amplified one’s natural bosom into a fleshy erotic shelf above a narrow circle of waist, some reportedly as small as 12 inches in circumference, though archeological evidence indicates 18-20 inches was more likely. (Source) Of course, only upper-class women could afford the pricey whalebone monstrosities and the arsenal of dressing maids to tighten their laces every morning, though as the century progressed, the upperly mobile middle classes certainly tried to emulate the upper crust with corset styles of their own, aided by the use of crinoline–or “horse hair”–skirts in the mid-century 1850, which helped create that charming bubble butt effect when worn as underskirts.

Victorian Women
Corset

Of course, the poorest of the poor, the working-class women, could not afford any sort of corset at all. As lacing was often linked to the morality, to teaching women moral restraint and seriousness, those of the lower classes who went about free and corset-less were thus literally “loose” in body and allegedly “loose” in morals. As their flesh jiggled without restraint, so too must promiscuity become an obvious result. Those who particularly earned the castigation of “loose” women? Why, none other than the ignoble ladies of the night, the women who made their living by plying the arts of love, those who could neither afford corsets nor bother with the constant changing in and out of the costumes for their particular profession. What self-respecting whore had the time or inclination to change in and out of a clothed cage for each and every costumer? What self-respecting customer, stifled by the modest chastity of his wife at home, a wife who wore corsets to bed in her sleep, never once giving him a single sight of bare skin, would wish for a similar device on his beloved madame? Ah so you see, loose in body, loose in mind.

VIctorian prostitute

Today, imitation corsets abound in sex shops, high fashion runways, and even your local Wet Seal. Still seen as remnant vestige of eroticism, but thankfully stripped of the overly painful metal stays and whalebone frame, as well as the social demand of wearing one. Though today’s modern play-corsets are hardly the most comfortable of garments, when worn briefly in the boudoir, they can add a spicy sizzle to an amorous affair. Today we are fortunate, as it is up to the individual wearer to decide whether or not the corset is for her–a choice our foremothers did not have merely a hundred years ago.

High Fashion Corset

It is interesting to note though, that despite the Women’s Dress Reform Movement in the early 20th century and the rise of blue-jeans, mini-skirts, and bikinis throughout the later half of the 20th century, women today are still constricted by similar social norms just as much–if not more–as our cousins of ye olde 19th century. The Victorians, we all know, were strange folk who had a penchant for the sight of sick, pale, deathly women. Yes, that’s right, nothing was tragically sexier to Victorian sensibilities than a woman dying of consumption, and corsets helped achieved that visual effect. This may not seem very sexy to you, it may seem downright weird, but think about what is considered sexy in today’s culture. Think about the media and movie stars and magazines…extreme thinness seems to be in vogue, even though extreme thinness is almost always incredibly unhealthy. From corsets to anorexia, perhaps we haven’t come as far from the Victorian era as we thought. Extreme thinness was “in” back then, and it’s still “in” today, we just have different methods of achieving it, from corsets, to eating disorders. Oh society, will we ever be free?

Skinny Woman

Brains: Nothing pisses me off more than insane whack-job examples of contemporary sexism. I mean seriously. For example, the senior Iranian cleric named Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi who blames the high frequency of uncontrollable geological natural disasters in his country on promiscuous women. The Iranian media quoted him saying, “Many women who do not dress modestly… lead young men astray, corrupt their chastity and spread adultery, which increases earthquakes” (Source)

Iran Earthquake
Iranian Cleric

Oh, and apparently, the reason the West doesn’t get as many Earthquakes as Iran, when we suffer “from the slime of homosexuality, the slime of promiscuity”? Well obviously, it’s because God likes to “test a nation,” so for “those who have provoked God’s wrath, He allows them (to commit sins) so that they go to the bottom of hell.” (Source). Yes, it’s all one big master plan by God you see. He’s allowing the heathen sluts to revel in their slimy homosexuality so he has a good excuse to smite them. I mean, not like he’s allegedly an omnipotent being who, you know, wouldn’t need a good excuse to smite whomever he pleased or anything. And I mean, nevermind the fact that it’s been a hundred years since Women’s Suffrage and hemlines have been lifted, God is obviously just bidding his sweet sweet time, waiting for the perfect moment to strike. The more mini-skirts, the more angry he gets, and the more fun he has smiting, right?

Damn this guy hates tits

In an ironic twist of fate, last month Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, another prominent hard-line cleric, urged his followers to pray for forgiveness to prevent earthquakes. Merely hours later, Iran was struck by four small earthquakes.

It’s my guess that top Iranian officials probably blame a loose Burka which slipped two inches off a young women’s head, revealing her left earlobe. The sight of her earlobe caused such a ruckus, God immediately stamped his foot not once, not twice, not thrice, but quadrice, causing the tremors throughout the land. The woman was delt with appropriately, and had her ear cut off.

That reads like something from The Onion humor magazine. Sadly, it is not actually far-fetched in this crazy sexist world we live in.

Creationism



Down Under
May 16, 2010, 4:44 am
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , ,

I still remember the first time a guy asked me if I wanted an “Australian kiss.” “Sure, what’s that?” I naively replied. “It’s like a French kiss…down under.” OK, terrible, cheesy, snort-worthy pick-up line aside, there’s still a lot to be said about “down under,” or “down there,” that nebulous euphemism for one’s private parts. Which is just another culturally-based euphemism for one’s reproductive organs. Which is just a scientific-sounding euphemism for one’s penis or vagina (or one’s combination thereof in the case of hermaphrodites, certain transgender individuals, etc. Hey, I exclude no one here, or at least, I try not to!) There is so much to be said about “down there,” yet so little is actually spoken, due largely to remnants of the bygone Puritan era which are still in effect in a rather sexually repressed society (when compared to France, for example.) And while we have certainly come a very long way in being able to openly discuss sex, sexuality, and sexual body parts, I still concede there’s a long way still to go before open communication and a natural comfort with the human body becomes the norm.

Australian Kiss

Boys: Besides unplanned pregnancies, which hopefully multiple episodes of Sixteen and Pregnant, Teen Mom, and True Life: I’m Giving Up My Baby for Adoption should have convinced you of by now to avoid at all costs, there’s also the super tricky issues of STDs, which I know, I know, no one wants to talk about. In today’s modern educated times, it’s not really that hard (in my opinion) to pull the “no glove, no love” card on a guy and tell him, “look, we need to use a condom, because I’m not ready to have kids yet, and I’m pretty sure you’re not either.” Most guys get this. And at least where I live in good old liberal California, where people march in the streets of San Fransisco to raise money for AIDS Awareness and there’s a Planned Parenthood on every corner, most people are aware unprotected sex is also a dangerous way to potentially contract an STD. But at the same time, most young women I talk to hardly ever use condoms or dental dams for oral sex because of the Awkward Factor. Getting guys to use condoms to prevent babies? Easy. Getting guys to use condoms for blow jobs? Not so easy. Am I right ladies, or am I right?

No love, no glove

Look, I’m not your preacher or rabbi, and I’m not a doctor or nurse, but I do know that oral sex without a condom is putting you at risk. Granted, the risk is rather lower than unprotected vaginal or anal sex (or breastfeeding, if you’re kinky like that), but it’s still a risk. Condoms should always be worn with strangers, and only skipped when in a monogamous, trusting relationship where both parties know for certain they’re STD-free and they’re using another method of birth control. A big way to reduce the risk is to TALK with your partner about their sexual history and an even BETTER way to further reduce the risk is to get tested together. See below for some awesomely awkward true stories, AND some awkwardly hilarious variations of “no sex without latex”:

List of 232 Condom Slogans

Don't Be a Fool, Wrap Your ToolNo Love No GlovePlug Your Funnel Before Enterting the TunnelDon't Be Silly, Wrap Your Willy

True Story: Being the responsible young adults we are, my current boyfriend and I were carefully using condoms every time, without exception. If there was no glove, there was no love, baby, it was that simple. But after a little while of exclusive, monogomous dating, I started to consider going on birth control pills instead. While he obviously had a vested interest in this plan, my boyfriend was totally great and acknowledged that it was my decision, and he would support me either way. In other words, no pressure from him, since at the end of the day, it’s 100% the woman’s decision to decide what she ingests into her own body (especially because, while many women have no issues when going on B.C., others experience serious side effects, and until the day they make the “male pill,” men can’t reasonably expect a women to bear with unwanted side effects if she is not voluntarily willing to do so.) I proposed a condition for him: I would go on BC, if we both got tested together.

Glove Affair

Now, I was almost 99% sure we were both in the clear when it came to STDS, due to extensive conversations on the subject of our past sexual histories, our shared routine medical testing histories, and our shared lack of risky behavior (no intravenous drugs, no hookers, no unprotected one-night stands, no dirty tattoos in seedy Las Vegas parlors, etc. etc.) But I still considered it a nice, foolproof way to be sure, and fortunately, he agreed. A few weeks later, we attended a charity AIDS Awareness and Prevention benefit at my old high school called “Glove Affair” (Glove Affair Website), an amazingly progressive school dance that promotes safer sex while simultaniously donating to very worthwhile causes. Once a year, the school gym is transformed from a routine exercise facility into a fairytale wonderland of condom balloon decorations, dancing transvestite cheerleaders, oceans of informational pamphlets, bowls of free condoms and lube, prize-winning stimulated safe sex games, and best of all…free on-site HIV testing. That’s right, for a whopping $10 entrance fee, you can get a 30-second cheek swab coupled with completely accurate and confidential results 30 minutes later. What a bargain.

Free Condoms
[Two volunteers handing out free condoms]

Condom Balloons
[Condom Balloon Decorations]

Glove Affair Party
[Two girls playing a ‘safe sex’ game with plastic kitchen wrap to stimulate using dental dams for oral sex]

Alice Condoms
[Alice in Wonderland Portrait made from Condoms]

Starry night
[Starry Night Condom Tribute]

Stop! AIDS
[Stop! AIDS]

Transgender Cheerleader
[Transgender cheerleader]

Condom Dresses
[Safe Sex Fashion: Dresses Made from Colorful Condoms]

Naturally, it was awkward as hell amongst getting some fruit punch and admiring the phallic decorations of rubber-covered bananas and zucchinis, to be all, “fancy a bit of HIV testing today?” But as uncomfortable as this prospect was, I couldn’t let an opportunity like this pass me by. Grabbing my boyfriend, I bit down on the Awkwardness Lemon souring my mouth, marched him over to the testing table, and signed us both up, acting as casual as if I were signing us up to win a free car in the mall. Thirty minutes and two cotton swabbed saliva samples later, I was thrilled to exchange negative test results papers with one another. Though I was 99% sure what the results would be already, it was still nice to hold the physical proof in my hands. It just took the question off the table completely, and made us both feel safer and more secure. And besides, as getting tested goes, this was a relatively more fun experience than, say, some cold medical clinic or doctor’s office with judgmental patients in the lobby staring at you. After all, this HIV-test included free fruit punch.

Fruit Punch

Lesson of the story? As totally awkward as talking about STDs and testing is with your partner, you have GOT to bite down on the Awkwardness Lemon and just do it, ESPECIALLY if you are considering skipping the condoms. I feel that it is sheer madness to have unprotected sex with a stranger without discussing sexual history (and even with discussing it, because strangers can lie very easily, or simply be unaware of their own medical conditions), and almost as mad to have unprotected sex with a steady partner without discussing and establishing guidelines like exclusivity, testing, and risky behavior history. At the end of the day, Love means Protecting your Partner, and Yourself. Love means Safety, in all its forms.

Love You Condom

Beauty: Landscaping. Trimming. Waxing. Shaving. Au Natural. Bush. Just some of the words thrown out in reference to every woman’s womanhood. There’s probably a few of us who have seen the “Vagina Monologues” skit called “Hair” about the subject. I know girls who wouldn’t dream of braving a bikini without a meticulous inspection ensuring total dillapidation, and girls who have a “dude, he should be lucky to be getting in my pants, hairy as it may be. He can deal, or he just not get some” attitude. Most of my friends take a stance somewhere in the middle, of the scissors-trimming variety, which admittidly was my favorite method until college.

Vagina Monologues

But did you know that some people (most of whom live where I work, in Beverly Hills, California), consider vulva lifts to be routine plastic surgery? Whether recovering from pregnancy, planning a wedding, or just plain feeling like a change, some women go under the knife in the quest for the perfect pussy. Personally, I think that’s a tad extreme (not to mention expensive, potentially dangerous, and smacking of deep-seated insecurity and self-hatred), but almost every young woman I know uses less extreme measures to maintain their own “Secret Gardens.” The subject fills feminist lit crit and women’s magazines, men’s magazines and pornograpy, sociological treatsies and medical dictionaries. Every culture has their unique take on the subject, every man has their preference (which may or may not be headed, tough luck), and every woman has a personal decision to make which is solely and undeniably her own. So let’s jump right in with the embarrassing personal anecdotes (Mom, you may want to stop reading about now…)

Shy Vagina
Vagina Necklaces

True Story: The very first time I tried shaving ‘down there’ was an absolute nightmare (almost as nightmarish as sharing intimate personal details like this all over the internet. Oh, what a writer does for her craft…) I was 19, living in a foreign country, and had a roommate who professed it was “no big deal” and “didn’t hurt one bit.” Convinced Fragole (fyi, that’s Italian for strawberry, and also an inside joke that works perfectly for her alias) knew what she was talking about, I grabbed my razor and gave it my best go. The next morning, I was nice ‘n tidy…except for the searing razor burn that hurt like a mother-you-know-what. Ouch ouch ouch! “Oh, whoops,” Fragole said ruefully, “I guess I should have warned you…that happens sometimes the first time.” Thanks for the heads up. It was ESPECIALLY awesome trying to communicate with the small-town Tuscan pharmacist who didn’t speak a lick of English exactly what kind of medicinal cream I was looking for… -_-;

Shaving a Beaver

Luckily, I have since learned the art of shaving without fear (hot tip: lots and lots of lather, go slow, fresh razor blade, hot water, rinse with cold water, start on the outside and work your way in, and top off after getting out of the shower with a cocoa butter moisturizer and some baby powder for that extra fresh special touch!) and even braved the dreaded bikini wax a couple of times (though after every trip I always wince and swear, ‘never again, never again!’). Shaving is still kind of a bitch though. It’s not nearly as bad as I experienced in Italy, but it is just one more inconveniance of womanhood. I like to play tit for tat though and ask my boyfriends to do some manscaping of their own, so they can see what it feels like for a change. Most are willing, if you give them enough of the right incentive.

Lady Shaver

However, I want to stress that no matter your preference, your body is ALWAYS beautiful, and you should always feel proud. Whether you wax it all off or go au natural, there is no “right” way to present yourself down there, as long as you maintain good, clean hygene and get regular check-ups from your gyno. Comfort is key, as nothing is sexier than a woman who is comfortable and proud of her body. And besides, at the end of the day, a truly easy, pain-free, guaranteed-sexy solution is simply a fun pair of panties! Dare to wear something saucy, like boy shorts that say “cheeky” on the bum, and I promise you that’s all he’ll be noticing anyway. After all ladies, if your underwear says “unwrap me,” he’s going to care more about the present than the wrapping paper. So aim for comfort–nothing is as unsexy as being uncomfortable–add hot pants, and relax. Your body is beautiful!

Bacon

Brains: “Upside down” maps absolutely fascinate me, because they make you realize how truly ego-centric it is of the Western World to assume they are physically on top. After all, why shouldn’t Africa and Latin America and Australia get a chance to be the big dogs on top? Who says they should always be on bottom? The first time I saw one of these maps really shook me up, as I realized my own cultural biases that I didn’t even know I had. We assume a Northern Hemisphere bias, but really, there’s no objective law decrying North is “above” South in any way, that’s just something that evolved thanks to the Eygptian astronomer Ptolemy (90-168 AD), whose methods were adopted by other cartographers for centuries afterwards (Source). For the record, these maps are just as accurate as traditional maps, they just show the world from a different perspective. One that actually makes you think.

Upside Down map
[Upside down world map]

Upside Down America



Scout’s Honor: Be Prepared
May 9, 2010, 1:29 am
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , ,

Believe it or not, I was a Girl Scout for over 12 years, from a wee little first grader all the way through the end of high school, evening earning the highest honor in scouting, the Girl Scout Gold Award. Which no one has ever heard of, but it’s basically the female equivalent of the Eagle Scout Award. Anyway, in scouting we had a motto: be prepared. For anything. Especially when camping away from civilization. For rabid bears, sudden storms, or running out of marshmellows. Whatever the trouble, a Scout was always ready. In that vein, I’d like to talk about packing some overnight urban-camping bags that I have found useful in my time, so you can always be prepared for any occasion.

Girl Scout Logo

Boys: Ahh, packing the overnight bag when sleeping over at your boyfriend’s house, especially for the first time, a miasma of ‘what in the heck do I put in this thing??’ Depending on so many factors, like how well you know him (could you get away with borrowing his toothbrush if necessary?) or how big a bag you can get away with before he thinks you’re crazy (answer: it has to be small enough you can carry it yourself), this particular bag can be a real doozy. If I know I’m going to have my car with me overnight, it’s easy to pack enough supplies for a small nuclear holocaust. But if, more likely, I’m going sans automobile, here’s what I boil down for the absolute essentials in the overnight-campout-with-boys-scenario (in no particular order):

Overnight Bag with Pinup Girl Design

  • Toothbrush AND mini-tooth paste
  • (just in case he’s running low/you can’t find his in the mess that is his bathroom)

  • Two pairs of underwear
  • sexy (for obvious activities) and normal (for getting breakfast the next morning and not having a thong wedged up your bumoley while you’re trying to eat pancakes)

  • Miniature tea-light candles and lighter
  • (bonus if they’re scented)

  • Small bottle of massage oil
  • (great for foreplay, trust)

  • Small bottle of lube
  • (just in case…)

  • Condoms (OF COURSE!), several, preferably different brands
  • (in case one doesn’t fit him properly, you have different kinds to try)

  • Your birth control pills
  • (note: good idea to keep a back-up pack of BC pills in your car/school back-pack/locker/work cubicle/etc. at all times!)

  • Pack of Kleenexs or other tissue wipes
  • (for cleaning purposes)

  • A lollypop/sucker
  • (for seduction purposes)

  • Flat, comfortable shoes
  • (if you’re wearing heels/uncomfortable shoes the night before, again, for breakfast and/or walking or driving home)

  • A pair of socks
  • (I know they’re not sexy, but just in case his bed is bloody freezing cold. You can also make them slightly more fun though by bringing knee-high argyle ‘school girl’ socks)

  • Chewing gum and/or breath mints
  • (hot tip: Say you just came back from a seafood dinner, but it’s awkward to straight up ask someone if they’d like a breath mint, because you are basically implying they have bad breath. Instead, pop one yourself, and then casually hold out the box and chirp “want one?”, as if you’re just after one yourself, but you’re being polite to offer. If he doesn’t get the hint though, try again with, “it’s a cool new flavor, try it!” If he STILL doesn’t get it, then you can flat out say (while laughing to show it’s no big deal) “damn, too bad shrimp is so yummy, it totaly sucks for your breath.” If he STILL doesn’t get the giant frying-pan-to-the-face-clue, THEN you can resort to, “dude, your breath stinks. Take one, or I’m not kissing you tonight.”)

  • Chapstick/lip balm
  • (for the previously discussed over-snogging effect)

  • Tylenol and/or Tylenol PM
  • (if you get a headache and/or you’re so hopped up on adrenaline/hormones/etc. you can’t sleep afterwards)

  • Small pocket mirror
  • (to use for wiping sleep out of your eyes the next morning)

  • Silky scarf/bandanna
  • (if you’re daring/kinky like that…for tying one another up)

  • Change of clothes / pajamas
  • (PJs: I recommend going with a tank top and cute booty shorts or sweat pants, because it’s more attractive than an over-sized t-shirt, but still totally comfy. Personally, I dig Victoria’s Secret’s “Boyfriend” sweats…so soft, warm, and lounge-worthy!)

  • Bottle of Water
  • (trust…sexytime is dehydrating)

  • Moisturizer, preferably with SPF 15+ sunscreen
  • (you really don’t need make-up the next morning as it will look over done, but slapping a dollop of moisturizer on your face will make you feel fresh and dewy. Plus, sunscreen will protect your skin on the way home/to breakfast and if you decide on any impromptu post-morning day dates, like walking around the Pet Shop to check out all the cute puppies and cool fish, something my current beau and I did once haha)

  • Any make-up your desire
  • (optional…personally I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being make-up-less the next morning, it’s OK to let your true self shine through, and he’ll probably appreciate the sweetness of an all natural look. But if you absolutely must, and wearing make up will make you feel more confident, by all means…)

  • Money
  • (cannot stress this enough! Though it’s nice if he offers, the Modern Girl is independent and if necessary can pay for her own breakfast)

  • Fully Charged Cell Phone
  • (Modern Girls stay safe and never leave home without their phones!)

  • Your Confidence
  • (OK, not a tangible object capable of being packed, I know, I know…but I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Confidence is the #1 Sexiest Thing in the World)

Even if you don’t use all of these items, which you probably won’t, at least you have them on hand, just in case. I like to divide the smaller items (chapstick, mirror, etc.) into a mini-bag like a small purse or clutch, then put that along with the bigger items (change of clothes, spare shoes, etc.) in a larger bag like a large purse or mini-back-pack, so I’m not fumbling around in one big bag trying to find my breath mints. Also, massage oil, lube, and any other liquids that can spill in plastic ziplock bags to protect the rest of my belongings. True mini-story: I was had massage oil spill all over my FAVORITE pair of Victoria’s Secret PINK sweatpants once -_-;

Victoria's Secret Sweats

Can YOU think of anything else to add?

Beauty: The big day has finally arrived after a whole week of planning and several back and forth “but what are YOU going to wear??” text messages: Ladies Night!! I don’t know about you kids, but me and my girls frequently have a Ladies Night about once a month where we all get dinner, hit up a bar, watch a super girly chick-flick, and sleep over at one of your houses and/or a house one of us is house-sitting at, which means tons of silly drinking games (Apples to Apples, anyone?), face masks, and camera phones snapping away. I love my Ladies Night and I always like to be prepared for them. If the whole girly makeover thing is your bag, and I know it isn’t everyone’s, it’s great to coordinate whose bringing the nail polish, whose bringing the mud masks, and whose bringing the tequila chocolate.

Ladies Night

If you all agree to bring some of your favorite beauty products, it’s a great way to sample other brands and items without having to make a financial investment (my friend Hawaii introduced me to an awesome face cream last time and I loved it so much she gave it to me as a present!). Just be careful about only using products in closed tubes and containers that can’t transfer bacteria or germs. I.e, never share mascara or any eye products, but it’s OK to squeeze some moisturizer out of your friends tube onto your finger, or bring sets of individually wrapped face masks, or paint one another’s nails as you discuss which products you find work well and which don’t. You never know what you might discover when you pool your resources with your girlfriends, even if you’re just sharing and exchanging information, which sometimes, is the best beauty products of them all.

Avocado Face Mask

Brains: There will come a time in your professional career when you will have a morning so terrible, you’ll think you’re actually cursed by Office Gods come down to Earth to Smite You. There will come a morning when you will spill cereal on your shoes, coffee on your shirt, and rip your pants in half when you bend over. Trust me, it WILL happen, which is a very good reason to keep spare work clothes in the trunk of your call at all times. Now, typically, your work clothes are your “nice” clothes, and you don’t want them to get crumpled or damaged or end up smelling like your car, right? So you need to find the perfect back-up-work-clothes which are just nice enough to be acceptable in the office place but are not your best Armani suit.

Car
[Car trunks = lifesavers]

True Story: Just this Monday, I was sipping from an entire jumbo-sized cup of lukewarm milky coffee in my boss’s office when BAM…klutzy me, the cup slipped right out of my hands and I absolutely drenched my WHITE button-down shirt. I’m not talking a barely noticeable stain on the collar, I’m talking a coffee shower with soymilk shampoo and splenda conditioner. The shirt was completely unwearable, and I was totally mortified. Clutching my purse to my chest as a shield, I hopped into the elevator, slunk into the parking garage, reassured the Valet guys I was just grabbing something from my car, and stumbled around looking for something decent to wear. I had an itchy wool sweater in the trunk which I was highly reluctant to don, but was resolved to my fate…until I found it…my pretty new white and blue summer dress from Wet Seal I had worn on my weekend date and accidentally left in my car. It was a little too short to really constitute office wear, but luckily my pants had mostly been spared the Great Coffee Spill of 2010, so changing in my backseat, I ditched my soaked button down for a colorful spring shirt-dress. I then hand-washed my first shirt in the bathroom sink, stuck it in a Green Grocery bag I keep in my trunk, and managed to salvage it at the dry cleaner’s the next day. But for work, I was saved, by my good fortune to be forgetful enough to clean out my car Sunday night.

Coffee Stained Shirt
[My shirt was like this…only much, much worse]

Now, I keep a cute but not overly fancy pink, white and green sweater with a gray undershirt in my trunk at all times, and another plain black sweater I hardly ever wear anyway that I don’t particularly like, but would do in a pinch if necessary. Plus, silver flat sandals that again, I don’t wear often but could just get away with at work, and a pair of slightly-too-tight work pants I never want to have to wear ever again but will if push comes to shove. I don’t particularly care if these clothes get sucked into the vortex that is my trunk, but I always know they’re there if I need them in case Mr. Yogurt explodes on me half an hour before a morning meeting. Or if my boss gives me so much work to do I end up sleeping over at the office, whichever. (On that note, also a good idea to keep pillows and a sleeping bag in the trunk of your car. You think I’m joking, but I’m totally not. They’re also useful for impromptu sleep-overs at friends’ houses after you’ve had too much to drink at the bar Friday night, because we all know drinking and driving is for douchey losers.) And that, ladies and gentleman, is childhood Girl Scout Theory applied to Real Adult life.

Camping Badge



The Fakery Bakery
May 1, 2010, 7:04 am
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , ,

Boys: Almost all guys, at least good guys that are worth dating, don’t like dating Fake Girls. We see fake all the time, in the news and in gossip rags, in air-brushed magazines and too-perfect-to-be-real advertisements, on reality TV make-overs and in pics of celebrity plastic surgeries. Young girls are positively bombarded with the idea that being sexy and attractive requires no small amount of fiscal investment in so-called beautifying products like fake orange tan, fake collagen lips, fake bottle blond hair, fake acrylic nails, fake hair extensions, fake push-up bras, fake fad diets, and fake plastic tits. And by contrast, au natural girls are somehow castigated as hippy freaks, granola girls, and unattractive nerds. What’s up with that nonsense?

Another Fake Girl
[“OMG Cindy, I just got a new fake tan!”]

While I certainly think it’s great to dress up, wear a little make-up, and play around with your personal look if doing so appeals to you, going over-board is another matter entirely. And while in general I’m totally down for women doing whatever the heck they want with their own bodies, be it bleaching them, dying them, tanning them, or frying them, I still think the fake look is ridiculously over-rated, especially by the male gender. (Note: I’m in no way discounting plastic surgery and its ilk in the case of physical deformities, reconstruction surgery, burn victims, etc., which are obviously different cases all together.) Of course, most girls will do something from the above list, maybe wear a push-up bra, maybe dye their hair. But a Fake Girl does it ALL at once, and THEN some, and THAT’S what makes her Fake. It’s the commitment to changing every little detail about her look, not just one or two things, but EVERYTHING. It’s the intrinsic discomfort with one’s natural self, the phobic anxiety over being seen without make-up, the obsessing over how plastic surgery will solve all her problems in life. It’s not the desire to be beautiful, which almost all women share, it’s the willingness to go to extreme lengths to utterly destroy any traces of one’s natural vestige which I think is so damning and unhealthy–and so utterly fake.

Real and Fake versions of the Same Girl
[Two versions of the same girl…which is more beautiful?]

Because all this fakery is really just indicative of one thing: an urge to fit in, be accepted by the status quo, and dress up for society’s role of “hot attractive woman” in the giant play of life. In essence, from an economist’s point of view, all these things like air brushed tans and fake nails cost time and money, and having time and money to spare indicates a certain level of wealth and social status, in essence turning fake tits and their ilk into a social display of decadence and opulence. From a feminist’s sociocultural point of view, all these things like air brushed tans and fake nails suggest that women are willing to conform, change, and even undergo physical pain (hair dye chemicals aren’t pleasant, plastic surgery requires anesthesia, etc.) to fit a perceived notion of male sexuality without expecting or demanding a similar compromise or change from men, in essence turning these things into a quiet submission to a sexist power-dynamic. From a psychologist’s point of view, all these things like air brushed tans and fake nails indicate a severe lack of self-esteem and an overwhelming conviction of insecurity, as a well-adjusted functional person wouldn’t need to rely on silicon implants to derive their self-worth. From a Modern Girl’s point of view, all these things like air brushed tans and fake nails achieved a combined effect that may result in a sort of external beauty, if one can call it that, but also a soul-crushing withering of internal beauty.

Fake Girl
[“Love me. Please Love Me. Whhhy does no one looovee me??”]

Take the recent well-known case of the reality TV star Heidi Montag, who got extensive plastic surgery to change her entire face and body, even being dubbed “Fraken-Heidi” by Perez Hilton’s gossip blog. Was Heidi more or less beautiful after her surgery? Hard to say (well, not really, but I’m trying to be somewhat objective here…trying, and obviously failing.) But one can say she stands as a role model for young girls everywhere, and her actions have consequences beyond her personal decision to get work done, which complicates the question. Furthermore, most guys that I know do NOT find her more attractive or datable after the surgery than before, since she’s obviously such a giant dose of “crazy with issues,” Frankenstein himself wouldn’t want to touch her with a ten foot barge pole.

Frankenstein

[Ewww…I’d rather date Medusa]

OK, maybe that’s a little harsh, but the fact still stands that all this fakery has an economic, sociocultural, and psychological component that bears examining. It is my feeling that the kind of man who is actually going to be attracted to fake women is most likely going to be a man who wants a “trophy wife” or “WAG” (British term: professional “wife and girlfriend”) as both a social status symbol and a personal sex toy. Think about it. Fake hair, tits, nails, tan, etc. cost a lot of money, which means the woman either has money herself or, more likely, seeks a wealthy male to provide her with money to pay for her boob job. For a rich man looking for a wannabe-wealthy trophy wife, this kind of woman is right up his ally. Fake hair, tits, nails, tan, etc. cost a lot of physical pain and personal sacrifice. For a selfish man looking for a doesn’t-mind-a-little-pain-to-stay-beautiful-and-attractive-trophy wife, this kind of woman is right up his ally. Fake hair, tits, nails, tan, etc. indicate low self-esteem. For a controlling man looking for a willing-to-be-controlled-by-monthly-allowances-and-promises-of-a-new-car-for-their-anniversary,-a-convertable-of-course-trophy wife, this kind of woman is right up his ally.

Heidi Montag
Heidi Montag
[Heidi – Before and After]

Bottom line? Fake men and fake women deserve one another. Most genuine, real, down-to-earth men don’t want to date a giant plastic Barbie doll. They want someone who isn’t a gold digger, isn’t willing to sacrifice herself, and is secure in who she is a person. Someone who uses make-up to compliment her natural beauty, not mask it. And the men who actually like fake women, rare as they may be, are probably not men worth dating, because they’re shallow, sexist, and more concerned with having a conventionally hot, socially acceptable woman hanging on their arms as an acquired prize than in forming a genuine long-lasting bond with another human being.

Barbie

So cut out all the crap and drop the fake act, I say. And a critically acclaimed British reality TV show, at the very least, seems to agrees with me. Last year the BBC3 produced the world’s first ever reality TV “make-under” show called Snog Marry Avoid, in which “fakery obsessed” participants are forced to relinquish their appearance-enhancing products, make-up, and clothes before being presented to the general public, who vote on whether they would rather snog, marry or avoid the contestants. The show’s host, a straight-talking, no-nonsense host, actually an intelligent computer called POD (Personal Overhaul Device) who “only understands natural beauty,” strips the girls–and guys, too–of their over-the-top looks and turns them back into the natural beauties they once were. In almost every episode, the guys votes to AVOID the over-the-top fake girls, and SNOG or even MARRY the au natural versions of them instead. That’s some basic evidence right there.

POD
[POD from Snog Marry Avoid]

Beauty: Ah knock-off designer goods, what a thorny issue. There are so many things wrong with knock-offs, from the moral argument–designers obviously work hard on their designs, and it’s not fair when people steal them–to the practical argument–to the well-trained eye, knock-offs are so obvious, and wearing something fake just looks tacky–yet people continue to wear them anyway. I admit I was once guilty of buying my Mom a knock-off Louis Vuitton when I was living in Italy, since I could never afford the real thing and she found it amusing when random women in the grocery store who didn’t know any better complimented her on it. Thankfully, however, that cheap fake has long since retired and been replaced by an authentic Coach purse which is much more affordable, yet still gives my mom an enjoyable sense of style, affecting a nice compromise, I think. So yeah, OK, we’ve all probably bought one or two knock-offs in our lives, but in general despite some strong counter arguments I think it’s a bad idea, and here’s why:

Tacky Toilet Seat
[Fake Bags = as tacky as this toilet seat…]

The Moral Argument – Counter: Argument: “Designers over-charge for their goods, which, as high-quality as they may be in terms of materials, labor, and design, still are faintly ridiculous when you consider dropping hundreds or even thousands of dollars on a single purse.” Well, this may be true, but so what? Designers have the right to charge whatever they want for their goods in a capitalist system. It’s not like purses are a necessity like food and water, so it’s not a crime to over-price them (charging $20 a water bottle in a drought? That’s an immoral crime.) If you don’t like the luxury price tag, no one is going to force you to buy it. So I still hold that designers lose a lot of income to knock-offs, and the “well they over-charge anyway” argument doesn’t hold much designer perfume.

Fake Louis Vuitton

The Practical Argument – Counter Argument: “Why waste money on the real deal, when no one can tell they’re fake anyway? *BUZZ* That was the “ding wrong answer” buzzer. The problem centers on circular logic. You buy a designer (or knock-off designer) product presumably to convey a sense of style, class, wealth, sophistication, whatever–you’re aiming to impress with an obvious social indicator of success. So naturally, you’re more likely to wear said product when you want to impress someone you deem important, like your job interviewer, first date, or school’s Queen Bee. But if these very people you wish to impress discover you’re holding a knock-off, you’re going to inspire the opposite reaction from impressed, which is scorn and derision. Your job interviewer may think you’re only pretending to be a successful professional, your first date may think you’re a wannabe-materialist, and your Queen Bee may think you’re a fashion-clueless idiot as she laughs cruelly in your face. So every time you wear a fake to impress people, paradoxically, you run the risk of alienating them even more. See the fundamental problem?

Fake v. Real LV

Take Louis Vuitton, one of the most widely counterfeited brands in the entire fashion industry, thanks in large part to the very visible and obvious LV logo, which when stamped on ordinary purses make it appear to be a genuine LV. Ironically, Louis Vuitton created the signature logo and classic “Monogram Canvas” design in 1896 to prevent copying of Vuitton products! (Source ) Yet today, Vuitton fakes abound–in 2004, they accounted for 18% of all the counterfeit accessories seized in the European Union–and LV’s parent company frequently takes legal action against counterfeiters, employing some 60 people for the job who work with investigators and attorneys. ( Source) All of this means that when I spot a woman swinging an LV in the elevator like she owns the place, I automatically assume it’s a fake, and try to peer at it more closely to confirm my hypothesis–and anyone even thinking about purchasing an LV online from Ebay or some such should certainly do their research first to avoid getting ripped off! Obvious ways to tell a fake from a real?

Spot a Fake LV

1. The most obvious way is to look at the placement of the monogram logo–dead give away EVERY time. LV has been around since the 1800s, OK, so they pretty much know what they’re doing by now, and they’ve perfected and inspected and redesigned their products to the point where a logo will NEVER be cut off or partially present at the seem, in a crease, or anywhere but a completely flat surface. It will NEVER be crooked, NEVER placed too high or too low, and NEVER have one too many or one too few fellow logos beside it. Furthermore, Louis Vuitton uses one continuous piece of leather that wraps around from the front to back, without a seam on the bottom, AND a very specific font with large round “Os.” (Source)

2. The zipper-pulls, which should be brass hardware and heavy, and the purse straps will also be branded with an LV. Fakes have gotten better over the years, and many of them will include these small details, so just having them there is no guarantee. But any bag missing them is 100% fake, through and through.

3. The stitching is always impeccable, evenly spaced, and regular, with “the same number of stitches will be found in similar locations on similar bags… for example the leather tab that the handle attaches onto on any size monogram Speedy bag will always have 5 regular, even stitches across the top.” (Source) By contrast, cheap fakes tend to have poor, uneven stitching that is a dead give-away…if it looks like you’re grandma could have sewed that handle on, it is a FAKE.

4. The material is always canvas for the bag, and all natural cowhide leather for the handles, which should be a light tan in color, with the edge dyed red and the stitching in yellow. “After a few weeks of handling your bag, the leather handles will oxidize and fade to a darker brown. If your leather handles don’t change color, it’s a fake.” (Source)

Shop with Fake Bags

At the end of the day, people can chose to buy knock-offs or save up for the real thing, and it’s their choice. Of course, selling counterfeit goods is still completely illegal, so technically people are choosing to commit a crime when they buy one, but what’s a minor detail like small petty criminal activity anyway (note: for the very dim, that was obviously sarcasm.) At the end of the day, I personally would be embarrassed to be caught trying to pull a fake designer bag off as real, so I wouldn’t buy one. I also wouldn’t buy the real deal for thousands of dollars, because I most definitely cannot afford that on an assistant’s salary (and even if I could afford that, I’d probably want to use the money for, you know, a down payment on a house, or my future child’s college fund, because I’m just that practical like that). Good luck to you though, whatever you choose.

Brains: The next time you have a headache, look closely at the little pill and notice the word stamped on it: Tylenol, Advil, Motrin. ALL legitimate pharmaceutical companies brand their pills with names and often dosage amounts as well, which is how you can tell the real thing from a fake. You should always be wary of accepting pills from strangers, but if you happen to be at a party with a raging headache and need to ask someone for drugs, checking the label–not just the pill bottle, but the label on the actual pill–is a smart, sure-fire way to know that everything is legit. Remember how your mother always told you better safe than sorry? Here’s an excellent application of that principle.

Pills

True Story: One time, a friend of mine, let’s call her Saphron, sprained her ankle while skiing with some friends, leaving her grounded in the cabin while everyone else got to hit the slopes. To cheer her up, a guy in the group she didn’t know too well, a friend of the friend who had invited her on the trip, offered her a delicious chocolate chip cookie. Well, you can probably guess where this story is headed…that “special” cookie belonged to the fakery bakery, as it was loaded with enough marijuana to shoot her off to Jupiter. The guy probably meant well, and she reported enjoying herself, so no harm, no foul really. But it still doesn’t change the fact she accidentally took drugs from a stranger. I also happen to know of a friend’s mother who innocently ate a very special brownie tucked in the back of her freezer, with no absolutely idea her teenage son had placed it there for safe-keeping, never expecting her to find it behind the untouched stacks of frozen peas. Of course, there’s no good way (to my knowledge) to tell if a baked good contains marijuana, but the story still hopefully illustrates that it is entirely possible to end up taking drugs from people on accident. (Note: I’m making no judgments here about marijuana and/or drugs being either good or bad, just simply commenting on the user’s lack of awareness in taking them). So though it may sound a wee bit paranoid, it doesn’t hurt to be street smart, and check your pill label to make sure everything is legit before sending it down the hatch. Better safe than sorry, right?

Special Brownie



Gender Abnorms
April 24, 2010, 5:25 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , ,

Today I’d like to talk about gender norms, which are one of my biggest pet peeves, and something I think a lot about. It’s always a debate how much of gender (note: ‘gender’ as the socio-cultural reality of being male or female, which is different than sexual dimorphism, or the physical differences between the two sexes) is biological and how much is societal, and like most things in life, the answer is probably a little of column A, a little of column B. But I think every Modern Girl–and Modern Guy, too–should spend some time mulling over the subject of gender “abnorms” and coming to their own conclusions about what suits them best. Just my opinion, like everything else in this blog.

Girl - Boy

Boys: I have long found it fascinating that Women’s Magazines reveal an entirely different standard of beauty for women than Men’s Magazines, and what this reflects about society. Most Women’s fashion magazines feature thin, size 0-2 models, often in awkward “high-fashion” poses, while Men’s lad’s Magazines often feature curvier, full-bodied, size 8-10 models in sexy “erotic” poses. Clearly, Men and Women in popular culture seem to have different ideas of what’s hot and what’s not.

Personally, I have a theory about fashion rags which will probably offend fashion-lovers everywhere, but here it goes: in fashion magazines and on run-ways, in print ads and on billboards, the women are not meant to be seen and noticed–the clothes are. This, in essence, makes women the mere carriers of the clothes, the literal and figurative hangers for clothing. Ever looked at a hanger? It’s skinny, wiry, and uninteresting. You hardly notice it as you reach for your favorite dress in the back of your closet. It’s job is to carry the clothes, and that’s it. The same logic applies to women. Fashion models aren’t MEANT to be sexy, because than the viewer/consumer’s attention will be on the sexy lady, and not on the clothes. The more un-erotic the woman is, the more the focus is on the clothes. So a sexy, voluptuous fashion model jutting out her hips and sticking out her ass is going to sell clothes less well than a skinny, awkward model tucking everything in. See below, and tell me which picture is more about the outfit, and which is more about the model:

Two Models in Same Clothes: Awkward Skinny and Sexy Curvy

This is why the fact that I’m not a size 2 fashion model doesn’t bother me when it comes to boys, and why I hope it won’t bother you either. Most boys, contrary to what the media and the fashion rags tell you, typically dislike super ridiculously anorexically skinny women, and prefer women with, in their words, “a little more meat on their bones,” as their magazines clearly demonstrate. (Not every guy has this preference of course, but considering their biological programming, it’s safe to say many do.) At least amongst the guys I know, “a little cushion for the pushin” is hot, rail-thin is not. Of course, some body types ARE naturally thin, and that’s A-OK–I know a lot of beautiful girls who are extremely thin naturally, such as my friend V-Day, who has always been on the slender side. But an alarming number of women have cultivated dangerous eating disorders in contemporary times, many desperate to be considered “beautiful” and “attractive.” But I say that if your aim in starving yourself, throwing up your food, or obsessing about how fat you are when according to all medical definitions you’re perfectly healthy, is due to anxiety over guys, this anxiety is completely wasted, not to mention counter-productive. Keep your hangers in the closet where they belong, most guys don’t want to date them.

Hanger

Beauty: Personally, I support all different kinds of beauty, and think there is no one definition of ‘beautiful.’ Beauty is obviously socio-cultural dependent, as different cultures across different time periods have valued and enhanced different aspects of humanity’s physical appearance. According to archeological evidence, cosmetics, for example, were utilized by many ancient cultures long before Max Factor and Co. was founded in 1909. In China, for example, “the custom of coloring one’s nails can be traced as far back as 3000 BCE” (Source).

Interestingly, much like contemporary times, ancient cultures also seemed to share penchant for thin body types–but they seem to be more reflective of contemporary reality! (Unlike today, where even though size 2 is popular, the average American woman is “5’4″ tall, weighs 145 lbs. with a dress size of 11 to 14, has a 36-37″ bust, is about 29″ around the waist and close to 40″ around the hips” source) Egyptian art depicts the ideal feminine form as “a youthful and slim figure with narrow hips, which anthropometric studies of pharaonic mummies have revealed is a fair representation of reality, at least in the case of Egyptian women” (source), while classical Chinese beauty was defined in the 57th poem in the Shuo Ren (The Book of Odes):

Her fingers were like the blades of the young white-grass;
Her skin was like congealed ointment;
Her neck was like the tree-grub;
Her teeth were like melon seeds;
Her forehead cicada-like; her eyebrows like silkworm antenne;
What dimples, as she artfully smiled!
How lovely her eyes, with the black and white so well defined!

(Source)

Classically Beautiful Chinese Woman

However, after the Chinese Revolution and the founding of the People’s Republic of China, health and strength became more desirable in a wife than insect-like frailty, and so the peasant look of ruddy cheeks and stout wrists and ankles came into fashion. Enhancing one’s appearance was viewed as decadent and overindulgent, so no makeup, short hair, and an army uniform became the norm. With China’s gradual opening to the rest of the world in the 70’s and 80’s, Western looks and fashion, especially curled hair, started influencing traditional Eastern culture, creating an interesting mix of style and aesthetics that are still evolving to this day. You might be surprised to learn that recently Gender Neutral has become all the rage, as evidenced by the winner of Super Girl 2005 (China’s “American Idol”), Li Yuchun, a pop star who looks extremely androgynous (Wiki Article: Li Yuchun)

Li Yuchun

So essentially, Chinese beauty has changed a LOT over the years, demonstrating that no one standard of beauty ever lasts forever. Right now, we may live in a society where most female celebrities feel compelled to dye their hair blond, but this is only a fleeting definition of societal beauty, one as likely to last as the in-vogue Chinese military uniforms of yester-year. I remain hopeful that the pendulum will continue to swing, beauty standards will continue to evolve, and eventually different kinds of beauty will be embraced and sampled. A girl can dream, anyway.

Brains: In my Children’s Literature class senior year of college, we touched upon the subject of gendered toys, something I feel strongly about are a terrible thing for society. If you go to any Toys ‘R Us or toy shop you will notice a very clear division between the so-called “boy” section and the “girl” section. The boy section’s colors are usually blue, and sometimes red and black, while the girls is usually pink and purple and sometimes white. The boys section usually features inter-active toys like building sets, model trains and cars, violent weapons, and action figures. The girls section usually features a lot of dolls, stuffed animals, musical instruments, and model domestic kits (baking ovens, washing-machines, make-up kits, etc.) Sadly, sometimes even when it’s the same exact product being sold, the marketing package is different for boys and girls, like in the case of diapers. Diapers, obviously, have nothing to do with gender, yet girl diapers have pictures of princesses and boys have pictures of cars. Go figure. From the earliest days of life, babies are gendered, as boys are considered “cute,” girls are considered “beautiful”

Girl and Boy Baby Signs

Many psychologists, sociologists, and feminists have spent time analyzing gender norms in toys, and the debate still rages to this today. On the biological side, proponents claim children like what they like “naturally,” attributing differences to evolutionary theory, as in primitive pre-historical times, women cared for the babies while men hunted for food, hence girls’ love for baby dolls and boys’ love for weapons. Strong evidence to support this theory stems from experiments with non-human primates, such as the extremely famous study conducted by Gerianne M. Alexander of Texas A&M University and Melissa Hines of City University in London in 2002, which concluded vervet monkeys showed the same sex-typical toy preferences as humans; “In an incredibly ingenious study, published in Evolution and Human Behavior, Alexander and Hines gave two stereotypically masculine toys (a ball and a police car), two stereotypically feminine toys (a soft doll and a cooking pot), and two neutral toys (a picture book and a stuffed dog) to 44 male and 44 female vervet monkeys. They then assessed the monkeys’ preference for each toy by measuring how much time they spent with each. Their data demonstrated that male vervet monkeys showed significantly greater interest in the masculine toys, and the female vervet monkeys showed significantly greater interest in the feminine toys. The two sexes did not differ in their preference for the neutral toys.”
(Source)

Vervet Monkeys Playing With Toys

So at least in some sense, biological differences do seem to account for part of the differences in gendered toy preference. On the other hand, however, humans are not monkeys, and though we share a common ancestor, we are still more highly evolved and capable of more rational thought. In today’s times, women can be more than child-carers, and men can be more than hunters, and this is generally accepted–or should be, at any rate–as a Good Thing. Yes these biological differences exist and yes they do play a role, but they are not the end all or be all root of gender, which is a highly artificial and arguably antiquated delineation imposed on society, previously by necessity, now by tradition.

Ultimately, what once began as a biological imperative has now become a bastion of conservativism, in my humble opinion, as staunch, narrow-minded traditionalists cling to the old relics of gender norms, desperate to make sure little boys know they are boys and little girls know they are girls. Most parents, sadly, do not even realize the heavy-handed gender socialization they are inflicting on their children when they only buy traditional boy or girl toys instead of buying both or seeking out gender neutral toys, while others literally freak out if they catch their son with a pair of oven mitts in his hands playing with his sister’s Easy Bake Oven, even though many girls enjoy playing with stereotypically boys toys and visa versa. My brother might kill me for admitting this publicly, but I, in fact, loved playing with my his toy train set, and he loved playing with my sister’s doll house! To us, toys were toys, no matter the gendered packaging–a philosophy I fully intend on passing onto my own future children, as I hope to discourage hyper-gender-socilization and encourage gender neutrality.

Boy and Girl Playing with Doll House

At the end of the day, of course, kids will like what they like and there’s no point trying to dissuade or change them. If your little girl likes to play with trucks, you should buy her trucks. And if she likes to play with dolls, you should buy her dolls. But she can’t possibly know what she might like unless you expose her to both, and THAT’S where the modern parenting comes in. I was fortunate enough to have a brother growing up, so I was modernly exposed to “boys toys” as a kid purely on accident. Though I loved my Barbies and stuffed animals, I also discovered how much I love little toy wooden trains, and had fun playing with both. In my ideal world, toys would be gender neutral, and it’d be possible to buy toys that didn’t fall into these categories. But for now, until this utopia happens, I’m not advocating denying boys their trucks and trains or girls their dolls and plushies, I’m simply advocating exposing children to BOTH kinds of stereotypically masculine and feminine toys, and allowing them to choose what they like best.



Pro-Active is So Attractive
April 23, 2010, 6:07 am
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , ,

Boys: Some overly idealistic romantics might tell you love is (or should be) easy, that if he’s the right guy for you he’ll “just know” the right things to say and do, and that if it’s meant to be it will just magically happen. Bollocks, I say. It is my personal belief that the dating/mating game is like anything else in life you have to work for. If you want a good job, you get an education, build up your resume, and get out there and apply for one. If you want a good boyfriend, you get an education about male psychology, you build up your resume by interacting with guys and having different experiences with them, and you apply for one by going on dates and selecting amongst your possible options (he, of course, does some selecting too, as it must be a mutual decision to continue dating). Then to keep your good job, you work hard, keep up to date with the latest news of the industry, and focus on getting promoted. Then to keep your good guy, you work hard at improving the relationship, keep up to date with all the latest news on your male partner’s personal psychology, and focus on getting promoted to exclusivity and beyond (or whatever your end goal may be). The logic applies both ways, don’t let the romantic fools fool you.

It’s not like I’m trying to lessen the joy of relationships, but it’s important not to get caught up in an over-idealized vision of fairytale love. Princes don’t ride around on white horses waiting to rescue you, so if you want a Prince, sometimes you have to go out and find him yourself. Then you have to vie with all the other Princesses twirling their hair for his affection, not to mention any Witches casting magical love spells on him. That Enchanted Forest is really more like a Perilous Jungle, but the Smart Modern Girl Princess doesn’t just wade in unprepared. She brings her machete, works hard, and kicks ass, and in the end, she gets the guy. Don’t be a Daft Useless Princess waiting around for true love to strike, right in that unemployment line waiting for the Job Wizard to get his butt in gear. Get your own butt in gear. Get your job, get your man, and be proactive in your life! Remember, ProACTIVE= AttrACTIVE.

Modern Day Jasmine, Kicking Butt

True Story: To snag my current guy, I literally made the first move–and it worked! Back in the dark days of “just friends” when I hd a massive crush on him, we were hanging out in his hot tub just relaxing and enjoying the starry night. The air hung heavy with hormones after we’d been flirting like crazy all night, but despite all my best and super obvious “green light” signals, he wasn’t appearing to make a move. I was puzzled by his inactivity, but the vibe felt so “on,” I knew there was some magic in the air, if only it could be unveiled. So when he casually mentioned that “this is so relaxing,” I summoned up all the courage in my pinkie toes and replied, “know what would be even more relaxing…?” before swooping in for our first kiss. And the rest was history, a Modern Girl’s history, ba dum dum.

First Kiss


Beauty: On the theme of Active, I want to preach the virtues of my favorite yogurt, Dan Active, which features live probiotic bacteria cultures. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Probiotic Sounds gross, but not only is it totally delicious and all the rage in Europe, they might help you live longer. The health benefits of probiotics were first discovered by a Russian scientist and Nobel laureate named Eli Metchnikoff, who realized it might be possible to replace harmful gut flora (microbes living in animal stomachs) which caused aging with useful anti-aging alternatives. Since then, we’ve conducted a number of experiments which suggest priobiotics may be helpful in preventing colon cancer, lowering blood cholesterol and blood pressure, and boosting the immune system. Of course, nothing is conclusive, but studies show some promise. At any rate, I literally drink one every single morning on my way to work, and I hardly ever get sick. Without a double-blind scientific study I can’t possibly determine whether there’s any correlation between these two statements, but it’s not like it hurts to drink the stuff anyway. Seriously, check it out:  http://www.danactive.com/danactive_faq.html

My Favorite Probiotic Yogurt - Vanilla Flavored


Brains: There’s one very active activity that could potentially save your life one day–Martial Arts (MA)! I first discovered MA in college (Berkeley has the #1 collegiate martial arts program in the country, being the first institution of higher learning to offer classes in the discipline) , and though thankfully I’ve never had to use my martial skills outside the dojo, I still feel slightly safer due to my pro-active stance towards self-defense. MA is a great for an active, healthy work-out, great for building up your discipline and confidence levels, great for studying an ancient and noble cultural tradition, and great for team-building (nothing says trust like holding a kicking pad in front of your guts and trusting your partner to aim properly and not whack you in the shins instead…). Classes can be a bit pricey, but many schools and universities–including super cheap Jr. colleges–offer P.E. courses or extra-curricular clubs that charge a mere pittance. Plus, you never know when the mad skills you learn might prove surprisingly useful…

True Story: One time sophomore year my roommate/best friend Goldie and I got in a HUGE food fight in our house. I mean we were flinging ice, pretzels, cookies, the whole caboodle at one another, shrieking with fun and laughter. But, Goldie and I each being a little too high-spirited for our own good, accidentally got a little too intense in trying to one-up one another, and when she backed me into a corner and grabbed a handful of sour cream to smear into my hair (I had probably just done the same to her, to be fair), something inside me kicked into gear and the next thing I know I was round-house kicking her in the face! The self-defense moved worked like a charm to defeat her sour cream bomb, but man, did I feel awful about using my MA skills on her like that. I SWEAR Goldie, I never even MEANT to do it, it was just instinct kicking in…and luckily she wasn’t seriously hurt. Seriously annoyed (as she had a right to be), but I wasn’t having to drive her to the hospital. Lesson learned: I’m always more careful during food fights now 😉

Food Fight!

True Story: Another time sophomore year, I was specially selected from my 500 person lecture class to attend a research trip to an observatory for my astronomy class, along with another student who happened to be an extremely arrogant little wanker. Somehow through the course of talking to one another the subject of my martial arts classes came up, and he scoffed in disbelief that a “girl” could be good at martial arts (he was a right knob, I know, I know.) He prodded me to “kick his ass then,” which I refused to do (never use MA for evil!), but when he asked me to show him at least one move, I finally relented. I warned him it would not be a pleasant experience, but he begged me to show him something cool. 30 seconds later he was gasping for air after a brief but powerful Judo choke, his eyes glistening with newfound respect. He never again said girls couldn’t do martial arts after that trip, and, as a bonus, he stayed the heck out of my way the rest of the semester. So yeah, this isn’t was MA was designed for, and I’m lucky I’ve never had to try and defend myself in a real-life altercation. But it just goes to show that a little MA can go a long way in other aspects of your life, whether defending yourself from a sour cream attack or getting the sexist pig in your class to think twice about disrespecting you. Kick Ass, Ninja Ladies, Kick Ass.

Ninja Girl Kicking Ass