Oh dear Lord, the winter rain. I’m usually pretty good at hanging with gratitude when it comes to the weather, but this winter has been a huge disappointment. Like many disappointments, it’s been lingering in my thinkings like a naked sloth waiting for my brain to make up its mind and get over it already. Disappointment is like that. It pollutes and then sutures itself onto otherwise lively thoughts until the basic human either makes the choice to clean it up and retract back to a reality that serves him or her, or wallow in it while spreading Debbie-downer syndrome to anyone that dares come around. Disappointment can be depressing. But deep inside it lies a giant vat of opportunity. From the outside this vat looks like a pinhole, an almost nothingness, barely distinguishable from the dust in the air. But when we are still and close, opportunity shows up with vibrance and purposeful arrogance and that all too oft ‘look at me!’ attitude. In order to embrace the very specific and important opportunity that is born of disappointment, a human needs one thing: humility. And that, friends, is the most virtuous of human traits.
It is humility that gets us out of jams when we have made a mistake. It is humility that begs forgiveness when we crush a fellow spirit with our words or actions, clearly having made a mistake. Humility screams from its cage which is locked within pride, until we hear it, until it annoys us right into the vein of doing ‘the next right thing.’ To be humble is to unpride ourselves. To REMAIN humble is one of the greatest feats of human strength there is. Humility is a virtue, yes, but it is invariably a choice. When we are disappointed with something, it can be difficult to step outside of the pride box of our own opinions and explore other options of perception. We are angered. We are hurt. We are crouched down inside the corners of our childhood woes around which we have fashioned what we think are tools to help protect us from said disappointment. We simply all struggle with being wrong as a result of this. Being wrong literally feels threatening to our survival when we’re looking at true animal behavior. Being wrong might mean certain death when running from the tiger. In essence, disappointment is uncomfortable. And no one likes to be uncomfortable for the same above reasons. I sure don’t like it. I bet you don’t either. But why?
I watched the Superbowl halftime show this year. Yes, I’m sure the past two weeks of debate around the nature of said show is still ringing in your ears and your mind is already plagued with ENOUGH ALREADY’s and JESUS!’s. Is there nothing better to write about than J-Lo’s ass? Is there?
My reaction to this halftime show was first one of sheer disgust and anger. My 10-year-old daughter watched it, unbeknownst to my obliviously bored sleeping self, in the other room. I discovered this the next day and was filled with rage. Against what? Well, for one, I was disappointed. I was disappointed that the other adult in the home let her watch it, I was disappointed that it kept her up way later than I’d have liked, I was disappointed that this is what has become of motion picture entertainment. For the record, I adore Jennifer Lopez. Shakira is a badass who shares a Lebanese heritage with my own children. They are superstars. Artists. Shockers. And they are still tied so tightly to The Machine that none of us is the wiser. Even with their best cultural intentions, capitalist America did what it does best and exploited their very vision into an aggravated display of sex, of suggestion, of lust, of dominance. And also, ever so subtly, of misogynistic submission.
I shared my disgust with a few people, online of course, and I was surprised to find that my opinion was yet again unpopular. I usually take pride in this as conformity, for me, is the great nullifier of humanity. To be the same means to level oneself and to level oneself means to extinguish one’s potential or point of view. Conformity serves the group, sure, but not the individual. I digress. I ended up embarking on a very severe argument with someone who (she wasn’t the only one, either) called me racist and sexist and RED and RIGHT just because of my opinions. I then went on to delete my facebook account because I was so appalled and, well, just deeply wounded by such a crass and aggressive encounter. I took my opinion to others. Surely I was not alone! Right? I asked them what they thought. I was yet again surprised to find some of my closest friends disagreeing with me. Of course, close friends will disagree. But I couldn’t understand why they would disagree about THIS. Did they not SEE? J-Lo’s assless chaps and crotch-bearing hands? Did they not HEAR the lyrics to these songs? I was so perplexed.
And then I got so uncomfortable being uncomfortable that I decided to take the information that was freely given to me by dear friends who had other perspectives and, with that information, I began to deconstruct my disappointment, demand that I find the pinhole of opportunity, and ultimately ask different questions. WAS I a prude? WAS I the right wing Republican girl white-knuckling her pearls in an everlasting missionary, lest I accidentally let adventurous lust lie upon my very loins? Surely NOT. I am none of these things. I am colorful and wild and liberal and anything but missionary. And yet, I still had this reaction. Why? What the hell about this performance had me so upset? Where was the nugget of information I needed to explain to myself about why I came to these conclusions?
I began to study. I interviewed people. At first I thought it was white privilege. I thought that my whiteness ironically colored my perception of what was a very powerful and artistic Latina expression of music and dance. I went down that path a bit, and quickly realized that, no. My white privilege was not responsible for my reaction to such a show, much to the chagrin of those that felt this way. We can talk about race another time, as I know this was a popular topic around which many argued with regard to this show, but I believe it deserves a well thought out dissertation and writing, which just isn’t on my agenda right here right now. Then one of my best friends sent me an article about how the camera angles for the show were extremely American in that they were almost all at crotch level, breast and mouth closeups, and focused intently on…bodies. There it was. I had it. This show had me writhing in the feather cushion of my left-wing Ikea couch because of the bodies. The first thing I heard exit anyone’s mouth was, “Wow! I can’t believe J-Lo looks like that at 50! And Shakira at 43! You go, girls! You shake those thangs! If I looked like that, I’d shake it too!” I mean, really. We have become so desensitized to the ways in which we perpetuate body image in this country that we don’t even realize what we are saying. When it comes to body image, the language doesn’t live on our tongues. It lives underneath them. In essence, it is what we DON’T say that adds to the ‘ism’s of body image in this country. Isms such as sexism, racism, capitalism, classism, all of these tenets that we dare not explore too deeply lest The Machine get on our tail and drag us down into the quiet dirt so our words make no sounds. For every out loud praise of bodies, there is an equally unloud, unsaid criticism of bodies that DON’T look like the ones that are being praised. And there is a massive population of humans that hears that instead. I think Lizzo is fantastic. She is real and sexy and full of incredible talent. Same can be said for Adele, or Mama Cass, or the like. But, let’s be honest here. Despite their amazing body positivity, if they were to show up on a lit up pole with assless chaps and a barely-there metallic bra covering just their areolas, the world would be having a very different conversation. I dare you to challenge me on that.
So I delved deeper into this. Naturally, when it comes to body image in this country, I get loud. I get curious. And I get deeply engrained in my search for opportunity inside of disappointment. What was I disappointed about? I was disappointed about the clothing and the scantness of it, and the shaking, and the wiggling, and the grabbing, and all the damn sex. NOT because I’m prude or a pearl clutching buttoned up red female, but because of what existed between the lines of that. Again, with body image, it is all about what we DON’T say. I was disappointed that these women who have access to personal chefs and trainers and surgery are put on display like moving statues of perfection and, while there was plenty of outward talk and praise about how great they looked, there is also an undeniable almost equal or larger portion of unsaid truths thought by women around the globe about how they themselves don’t stack up. Yeah, I’m gonna go there. It is in the unsaid where the sick survive. It is the quietness of the day to day thoughts that don’t get hooked up to the popular mic that torture the insides of those who believe theirs is a life of not enough. They feel unworthy and then guilty of feeling so unworthy and so they don’t speak up but they secretly live in constant disappointment. They then move through the world within this disappointment, never letting on that they are filled with self loathing because their proportions don’t add up to J-Lo’s. They wonder what they can do to get themselves on the map, even in their small communities. They skip breakfast, they berate their daughters in a misguided search for comfort, they have affairs, they divorce their husbands, they are filled with shame, they kill themselves.
My next question was about culture. Is this thinking just American? I dove. Deeply dove. I researched and queried my ass off. I was lusting over this opportunity that had burst itself open like a poisonous night bloom out of the soil of my disappointments over this. I finally felt productive. Why? Why? Over and again, I came back to the why of my thoughts. I stumbled upon articles, journal articles complete with abstracts and citations and all kinds of well decorated anthropologic authors and professors who dared to explore the cultural norms around sex, age, body image, and eating disorders. I specifically posed my questions with regard to Latina culture and the prevalence of eating disorders because to delve into the herstories of every culture on earth would have severely sidetracked me from my goal. What I learned was that, while Latina culture on the whole exhibited a smaller number of eating disorder cases and their ideas of favorable bodies invariably contained many more curves and wiggles and round fertile healthy tissue, Latina culture in AMERICA was struck by an almost equivalent prevalence of eating disorders and body image insecurities as the general American population. So, not surprisingly, this problem among women and men is more an American thing than a Latina thing. Curious. I can’t speak for other cultures because I have not yet researched them. But I will. And you will know when I do. What the hell is it about America that has lent the culture to become this way? I researched the dawn of Twiggy, the fact that bulimia didn’t even show up in the DSM until 1979, and the history of fashion and rail thin models in this country. I’m surprised Twiggy is still alive, but she is a mogul in the fashion industry. I was curious about that, but really not that surprised.
And still, I was uneasy. Why? Again I questioned, this time with more fervor, more thirst for the truths that were making me uncomfortable. What I heard most on the tongues that spoke in favor of this show was a little buzz word that has become even more trendy than that light up pole between Jen’s legs and that shaking tongue between Shakira’s lips (easy. I realize that move was an Arabic one, NOT to be confused with American sex culture). What is the buzz word, you ask? Empowerment. We throw this shit around like it’s the new skinny jean style. When we use it, we think we are cool and warrior and nuveau and liberal and feminist and against The Man. We feel trendy and liked and conformist. We feel like we must be talking about this because, well, everyone else is talking about this so… Please don’t get me wrong here. Real, honest, raw female empowerment is fucking badass to the core. It is a skill I hope to teach my daughters as they bravely navigate this very disempowering world. It channels the original matriarchal tribes of the world putting life back into their otherwise nearly extinguished pasts. What frustrated me is something I can owe to American culture on the whole. We, in this country, equate female empowerment with sex. Period. We are told to “own the room” and “rock the stage” as though our display of femininity is purely physical and to be in charge of our bodies means that we are in charge of our selves and we are then less able to be overtaken. But American culture, what with their crotch level cameras and snarky headlines, hides a quiet slice of misogyny inside the rhetoric which, when we aren’t looking, sneaks into our own feminist vocabulary and before we know it we are convinced that the only way to feel empowered is to feel sexy. There it was. My discomfort. The opportunity for this blog post then sincerely burst itself right onto my computer keys. There is nothing wrong with a woman finding her sexuality as something that empowers her. There is nothing wrong with body pride and a woman being empowered by feeling comfortable in her own skin. But there is something wrong with a culture that subliminally tells her that this is one of the most important things in which she can find her power. Further, there is something wrong with a culture defining what sexuality is or isn’t for the human beings that live inside it. I couldn’t grab onto the conversation here. I was uneasy in my search for praise of this show, not because of all the badass women I saw dancing up on stage like strong mamas showcasing sheer athletic finesse and choreographic intelligence. I loved that part of it. I was uneasy with the American filter on this show which quietly (remember, between the spoken words) tells our young girls that to be in charge of your Own Self must require that you harness what the outside world tells you is your sexiness and showcase that, whether it makes you uncomfortable or not. That to respect your own privacy about your sexuality and how you express it is prude and unlikable and DISempowering. Is there no other substance to women besides sex? Of course there is. But pop culture doesn’t want you to think so. And I have trouble praising artists who sell out to The Machine that creates a culture around which my daughters eventually will have to navigate. If they happen to disagree with me, that’s fine. I don’t need people to agree with me in order to speak my truth. But I challenge you to go outside your initial opinions and ask the important questions. The hard ones. The inconvenient ones. The ones that affect lives. What is art if it FAILS to conceive these conversations? Jennifer Lopez and Shakira succeeded wildly as I believe this has been one of the most widely talked about halftime shows since Madonna kissed Brittany or, dare I say, Janet’s tit.
When I was eight years old, the Little Mermaid debuted. It was surely the talk of the Disney-faced times back then. We didn’t have facebook or instagram or youtube or snapchat or tic tok to inundate us with imagery that we then could take into our quiet minds and ruminate over in our bedrooms. We had hand drawn 2D animation and we thought it was the bees knees. By this age, I was already a pretty established swimmer and I loved the water…and mermaids, of course. I couldn’t wait to see the movie. And then I watched it, loved it, bought it, and watched it at least 1,000 more times. Why did I like it? Ariel had a grotesquely tiny waist. I couldn’t look away from it. I used it as a measure for my own waist, always coming up short. Why couldn’t I have a waist like that? Why does mine look like this? All I wanted was that waist. And so began, at eight years old, my quiet between-the-words struggle with my body. Suddenly I was told by the media that I didn’t measure up. There was no talk that was akin to the present day talk of body positivity, different sized barbies, different colors, cultures. There was white, blonde, thin. That was it. That was what we were indirectly told by the shit that was thrown at us in a barrage of constant movies, commercials, toys, clothing, graphics, even storybooks. It, essentially, became our world. My sister was lucky. She was born with Ariel’s body. Small, thin, petite, a pretty badass ballerina to boot. She was graceful, and small, and all the boys swooned over her constantly. I was thick with German bones and Italian skin. I was strong, and tall, and wild. A born athlete. I hated it. The little mermaid (as well as all of Disney) told me to hate it. She was, after all, a thin hot long haired mermaid who “got the guy.” Ursula was fat and mean and literally had to transform herself into being a thin brunette woman (have you noticed that all the mean girls in that era of Disney are brunettes?) to “get the guy.” I started to hate myself. It wasn’t conscious at first. I mean, how much self awareness does an eight year old really HAVE? But that movie dug deep without my knowing, its effect evaded my parents who didn’t even realize they could have been looking because, culture, and to this day I have trouble watching it. It would be two years before I began starving myself, almost dying in the process. It would be 25 more before I realized the agony upon which these eating disorders thrust me. Surely I can’t blame Disney. I am my own person in charge of my own self. I have made all my choices on my own. But the influence was there and, once planted, I clearly couldn’t unsee it.
This halftime show is a big deal in so many different ways. In a positive way, it represents feminist culture and Latina pride, both things I strive to teach and celebrate with my daughters throughout their lives. It represents hard work, dedication to one’s craft, athleticism, and using one’s body to display power and courage and strength. These are virtuous and these are the things that really did end up shining through for me after I dissected my initial disappointments. But, I have a responsibility to the silent sick and the other things this show brought to the table were far more sinister. I’d like to think, with rose colored glasses welded to my eyes, that any and all girls and women saw this show and felt strong and powerful in their own growing bones, no matter what their size, structure, culture, or class. I’d like to think that all women, young and old, were inspired by the art of it and challenged themselves to study the talent. And, that’s what you’ll hear if you read most of the articles and posts and pop culture musings that color our perceptions in ways that direct the conformist status quo in one direction. That’s The Machine at its finest work. However, my fight lies in creating out loud words for the silent sick. The ones who maybe saw that show for the first time and used it as a gauge for not measuring up. The ones who decided to start starving themselves, or throwing up, or compulsively exercising because their asses didn’t shake like those asses and their jeans just don’t fit like a see through body suit. These are the ones you won’t hear about, the ones over whom you’ll shake your head and declare that I’m “blowing this out of proportion” and that “most people don’t think this about the show.” If you haven’t noticed, I am not most people.
I write this for the silent sufferers who are more abundant than The Machine wants you to realize. I write this for you, and her, and him, and them. I write this for my daughters who have created in me a mission to help do as much as I can to protect them from such evil diseases. I write this for myself, for a better understanding, a clearer path toward future musings, and a dedication to healing from decades of trauma and abuse. I write this to stimulate the other side of this very important conversation. I write this out of respect for the craft of artistic expression because, without it, these discussions wouldn’t happen and the world would stay stuck in what math and STEM wants you to believe is the Most Important Thing. When you view the world, especially the virtual one which is really not real, take of the glasses and really look at it. Honor all perspectives, especially those that are different from your own. Don’t judge the opinions of others, even if they seem crazy to you. Crazy is the world’s word for ignorance and nothing good comes from this label. Open your minds. Make space for the Tao to drink you up and show you truths you thought never existed. And, above all, be a good human. We need each other desperately. The world is waiting for you at the table. Potluck that shit and let’s go.