Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Happy Birthday to Me!

Today is my birthday.

I love my birthday. From the minute we turned 365 days old, my parents have made a big deal of mine and my twin sister's birthday. Our first birthday was an elaborate affair, with a homemade cake from my grandmother and frilly dresses and balloons and far too many presents. And maybe that first birthday set the tone for the rest of our lives, or maybe because my mother was always very, very keen on making sure that my sister and I had a grandiose celebration that usually lasted about a week to show how happy she was that we were on this earth - whatever the reason, I have come to believe that my birthday is the most important day of the year.

Today I am 26 years old. Last year, on my 25th birthday, I had what can only be described as a quarter-life meltdown. While my parents drove from Mount Pearl to Gander, where I had already spent a few days with my sister, I was sitting on the cusp of a mental breakdown. When my mom called to say she hadn't been able to get the cake I wanted - and cake is the most important part of my birthday - I burst into tears and began a long, solitary walk in the rain.

While I was indeed disappointed about the cake, it wasn't the real reason for my inconsolable sobbing. I was struck by the fact that I was 25 years old, that I had lived for a quarter of a century, and I had no idea what I had to show for it. What had I accomplished? I wasn't married, didn't have a house or a career, and hadn't traveled very much. All I had was a commonplace BA, 9 months in a big city, and job where my main task was photocopying. I hadn't accomplished anything that the books and movies said I should've, and I watched as my friends all moved away or had money for extravagant trips or got married, bought a house, and filled it with puppies and/or babies. I felt like I reached the plateau of adulthood but didn't really belong there.

Was I being melodramatic? Probably. I mean, tears in the rain always carry a sense of a Nicholas Sparks novel about them. But I don't think my quarter-century crisis is unique; in fact, I know it isn't. And I think maybe these milestone moments serve as markers for us to look back on, when we are older and (hopefully) wiser, and see how much we've learned since then.

And how have I grown from 25 to 26? The logistics can be argued, but I certainly feel like I've tentatively stepped across the threshold of adulthood without feeling like I've stumbled into alien territory. I now have 2 half MAs, hydro and internet bills, and I own half a couch. On two separate occasions, I've managed to not cry in public when I really, really wanted to.

Mostly, as I begin my 26th year, I don't feel as though I've lived 25 wasted years; rather, I have more good friends than anyone could hope for; a cast of supporting family who believe I can - and will! - succeed at whatever I set out to do; and a raspberry coloured couch that pulls out into a queen sized guest bed. What more could a girl want as she approaches the first year of her half-century on earth?

Happy birthday to me, indeed.

Current book I'm reading: Eating the Dinosaur - Chuck Klosterman
Current TV series: Lost season 6
Current nail colour: Essie's "Saturday Night Disco"

Sunday, May 12, 2013

I'm Tired of Hating Myself, Mr. Jeffries

If you're anything like me - that is to say, an unemployed 20-something who spends a great deal of time dilly-dallying around social media and pop-culture news sites - you're sure to have seen the interview with Abercrombie & Fitch CEO Mike Jeffries where he openly states that he doesn't want fat people wearing his brand.

In case you have more important things to do than derp around the internet, here's a brief summary: Abercrombie & Fitch doesn't sell women's XL or XXL clothing because Jeffries wants "good-looking people" to be the face and bodies of his clothing. He speaks about exclusion and how there are kids who are cool and those who aren't, and only the popular, pretty crowd are idyllic enough to proudly wear A&F garments.

There have been countless outraged reactions to Jeffries' interview: women and men refusing to support a brand with a "creepy, predatory, bug-infested, bigoted, racist" CEO; major news sites offering scant analysis with appallingly lame titles; and a "Former Fat Girl" (who is keen for us to know that she is no longer fat) repeatedly demanding that Jeffries be ashamed of himself, just to name a few.

These and the many other editorial and opinion pieces written in response to Mr. Jeffries are all well and good. They correctly point out the problem of fat-shaming and the growing number of young girls and boys who have self-esteem and body issues, and they call for reform of the way clothing companies - and their leaders - perpetuate the cycle of shame and self-abuse by ensuring that "outsiders" continue to feel like there's something wrong with them, and they don't belong.

But, quite frankly, I think a lot of this noise in reaction to Jeffries is doing more harm than good.

A day or two ago, my roommate had plans to go downtown in the evening, and she and I were rifling through both of our closets, trying to piece together an appropriate outfit. We started talking about how we hate a lot of our clothes, because when, as a plus-sized shopper, you basically have to take what you can get to cover up your skin. This turned into a goodnatured "hate-on" for our bodies, listing everything that was too big or out-of-proportion or didn't allow us to wear a certain style or cut of clothing. It wasn't just hate for our clothing options; it was hate for ourselves.

And it occurred to me, as we were talking, how insanely arbitrary the clothing market is. Why do we let an arbitrary system of numbers stitched into the back of a shirt or pair of trousers dictate how we feel about ourselves? Why does the difference between a 12 and a 16 mean that I have moved from a "regular" sized woman into a plus sized? And why does that even matter? Why do I let two digits determine my self-worth?

As I read Jeffries' words and the people who raged against him, all I felt was exhaustion. It is so tiring to be constantly reminded about what's "wrong" with you and why these reminders are making your self esteem slowly seep into the ground. It's exhausting to hear people say "it's ok to be fat, we're all different" instead of just saying "it's ok to be."

It's exhausting hating yourself.

What bothers me most about the reactions to Jeffries is that they all make it seem like he's the most powerful man in the world, and that he - and he alone - is the reason young people hate themselves for not fitting in. I find it troubling and annoying and sad, because the main reason teens and young people are uncomfortable in their own skin is because they see that we, the general mass of adults, hate ourselves, too.

We hate ourselves because we don't fit into the clothing we want, or because we can't find a job that we like, or because we don't have enough or the right education, or because we can't find true love, or because our friends are cruel or stupid sometimes, or because we can't stop eating chips before bed, or because we don't make enough money, or because our Facebook friends have better lives than us. We hate ourselves for completely arbitrary reasons.

I don't know when, as a society, we decided we were supposed to loathe ourselves. It's amazing that the United States, a country obsessed the opposing ideals of extreme Christianity and narcissism, has somehow lost track of the fundamental Biblical command: "Love each other as I have loved you" (John 15:12). Surely, if we were loved into creation, and are told to love others in the same way, there is no room at all for despising the self.

But yet we're supposed to be self-deprecating and apologetic about ourselves. We're not supposed to be self-aware or honest about our strengths because it's not the norm. How dare we not think we are terrible, underdeveloped humans! Do not know yourself and what you can accomplish; feel consistently unworthy of love and praise.

I've decided I'm done. I am through with hating myself because of my pant-size or one wonky tooth or my weird giggle. Because I am loved - not because of a pretty dress or a red lipstick or curl in my hair. I am loved because I was created to be loved. And I refuse to stand in the way of others anymore. I refuse to hate myself so that others can maybe see that they don't have to hate themselves, either.

So thanks for sharing your thoughts, Mr. Jeffries; I'm going to have another cookie and forget everything you've ever said. I hope others will too.

Current book: Eating the Dinosaur - Chuck Klosterman
Current TV series: Lost - season 5
Current nail colour: OPI's "Red Lights Ahead...Where?"