Sunday, March 11, 2012

Day 353: Mantra Monday / Two Truths and a BIG Truth, Part 3 (For Real This Time!)

Thanks to everyone for their understanding of my recent "sick day/month".  After almost 4 weeks of following my doctor's orders AND throwing in numerous home remedies (thanks to all of your suggestions!) I've finally turned a corner on this monster. I wasn't able to give the full "Two Truths and a BIG Truth, Part 3" post last week, but I'm making up for lost time today.  In the spirit of Mantra Mondays, I'm presenting my Two Truths as mantras, since this is how I've used them.  The BIG Truth is less mantra-ish, but hopefully still thought-provoking.  Enjoy!

Whenever I find myself at a crossroads in which I have the choice between multiple paths, be they small (i.e., this outfit or that one?) or large (i.e., what should I be when I grow up?), I have used the following two "Truths" to help guide my decision-making.

Truth # 5: When in doubt, channel "KJ@3"...
Me, at 3. (aka, "KJ@3")
Back on Day 171, I introduced you all to a photo of "KJ@3", by writing, "I'm reminded that I was once a precocious, curious and adventurous little girl who imagined myself to be a writer. I had loving parents, silly friends (some imaginary), and oodles of confidence. [...] THIS is who I want to be when I grow up."   KJ@3 was a curious, bold, caring, and confident tomboy with short hair, a lisp, suspenders, big dreams and an unending love for animals (including bugs and slugs).  I knew that I had everything I could ever need (except maybe a puppy!), so envy wasn't a big part of my mindset (at least until my sister, Hanna, showed up!).  I didn't worry about being pretty or fashionable, just feeling comfortable.  I ran around naked a lot.

When faced with a  moral conundrum - or even when faced with somebody who's life seems so much cooler than mine - I remind myself to "Be KJ@3," who would never-ever pick the mean option, the jealous option, or the physically uncomfortable option.  How would your 3-year-old self make decisions?

... but, if that doesn't work, channel Ms. Piggy. 
Of course, there are a few (PG-13 and R- rated) situations that would be inappropriate for a 3-year-old.  In these times, Ms. Piggy has to show up.  (FYI, I know it's usually "Miss" Piggy, but I think she'd thank me for the correction!)  Ms. Piggy is a curvy gal who believes that she is destined for stardom and great love, and that nothing can stand in her way.  She is sassy, outgoing, yet unabashedly feminine.  Oh, did I mention that she's an author on the New York Times Bestseller List, AND was the plus-size editor of Vogue Paris?  You read that right: we're talking about a feisty bestselling fashionista author who loves her curves!  HIYA!  Unlike the more innocent KJ@3, Ms. Piggy knows when it's time to fight fire with fiery rage, and I've had a few of those times in the past year (recall, massive online bullying a few months before my wedding).  I'd never want to subject KJ@3 to some of the cruelty out there (and I also wouldn't ask her for advice when picking out honeymoon lingerie!), so it's good to have a back-up with backbone and sex appeal!
Truth #6: Be a role model.  

Learning to view myself as a role model for other women - particularly for my female college students - has been one of my most powerful tools for staying healthy and appreciating myself.  To me, being a role-model has never meant being "perfect".  We have plenty of “perfect” role models out there in our popular culture of fables, fairy tales, and romantic comedies, telling young women and girls that success, happiness, and love can only be theirs if they look like barbie-dolls and make it their life’s work to please others.  Weird nerdy girls don’t get the guy until they've had a makeover, which for some reason always involves ditching her glasses (What is it that they say?  “Men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses.”)!  This is not what I want for my students.  I want them to take their unique lives, unique bodies, and unique minds and stride confidently along their own paths.  I want them to find love and embrace it, rather than doubt it.  I want them to revel in their quirks, and say PHOOEY! to people and media who tell them they need to look or act a certain way in order to be happy.  I can't truly encourage my students to do this while being a slave to the same systems I'm critiquing.  (And it's not like students don't notice when their teachers are trying to look like barbie dolls!)  

Because of this, I think that imperfect women who have fabulous lives make great role-models. So, when I consciously try to be a role model, I relish in being as vibrantly imperfect and quirky - yet successful, loved, and happy - as possible I believe that being a role model in this way is good for my students, and I know that it's been good for me.  Numerous times when I’ve been tempted to go on a crash diet - or to otherwise look perfect and act perfectly composed and put together - I’ve talked myself out of it simply by reminding myself of how badly I want to prove to my girls that quirky, chubby, bossy, outspoken, clumsy, weird, girls can absolutely achieve professional success, wonderful friends, and fabulous love.  Who are your favorite imperfect role models??

BIG Truth #3: Yes, this IS what a feminist looks like! 

I've finally come to a meaningful conclusion on this topic.  There's been a lot of debate among feminists, regarding the appropriate relationship between women's appearance, patriarchy, and being a "good" feminist.  Some scholars suggest that normative beauty standards are a form of  (evil) patriarchy, and that, by indulging in beatifying practices, women contribute to their own oppression, and to gender inequality as a whole.  This suggests that women who participate in heteronormative beauty practices must be either naive and uncritical, or are strategically making patriarchal bargains.  (You may recall that a patriarchal bargain is a "decision to accept gender rules that disadvantage women in exchange for whatever power one can wrest from the system.  It is an individual strategy designed to manipulate the system to one's best advantage, but one that leaves the system itself intact.")

As a woman who is both an avowed feminist and who makes tiny little patriarchal bargains pretty much every day of my life, I have felt angst.  Does wearing mascara, high heels and "shapewear" somehow negate the sum of my academic work, volunteer efforts, blogging, and mentoring?  Can I promote Health At Every Size while using to stay mindful of my eating and exercise?  If dieting is supposedly anti-feminist, does that somehow make binging pro-feminist?  These questions have nagged me quietly for years, but my no-mirrors project (and public blogging of the process) have brought them front and center.  And you know what?  I'm glad!  It helped me reach my 3rd BIG Truth.

Here it is: YES, this IS what a feminist looks like!  But what I look like should never matter more than what I do.  There is no such thing as a "perfect" feminist.  However, I acknowledge that to be a "good" feminist, you probably ought to do more than just believe in the importance of equality between men and women; you ought to help make it happen.  Because of this, it is important for us to sit down and think about the sum of (1) our daily actions alongside (2) our larger lifelong commitments and work.  Both of these things should be recorded in our personal accounting books, but it's the balance that matters in the end.  However, these personal accounting books ought to be just that: personal.  Judging other women for not making the "right" decisions ignores the complexity of our differing life experiences and unique selves.  Even worse, when we judge other women for their choices, we effectively limit their choices, which ultimately disempower goth them and us. 

Thoughts? Reactions? Frustrations? Have you ever felt judged regarding your political believes because of your looks?  Spill it! :)


  1. Hi there! I love that you have provided a forum for readers to bring these questions to the front and center. Regarding the question of what a good feminist looks like, I agree with your perspective that it is important to "think about the sum of 1) our daily actions alongside 2) our larger lifelong commitments and work" and that it's personal. I've never understood why I should have to look like a man to be a good feminist - i.e. not wear makeup, high heels, etc. Some women like to wear make up, some don't. Heck! Sme men like to wear make up! Who cares? I think as long as I've checked my motives (am I wearing make up because I like it or because I'm trying to gain a leg up within the system?), and I've thought about the consequences of my choices then anything goes (almost). In the end, I've been working towards trying to understand where other women are coming from, and to be a welcoming force in the world, rather than placing judgement.

    1. Chloe - Thanks so much for your thoughtful comments. It's great to know other women are thinking of the same topics...

  2. One of my role models is my daughter who is a lot like you; Okay, she actually IS you. I love you, Kjerstin!

    1. thanks Mom! Can't wait to see you in a few weeks. :)

  3. Hi,

    This is absolutey a great summary that our appearance is not who we are. That we really "live" in earthsuits here on earth. It's hard to keep the focus sometimes because of all that is "out there". So we women must rally together and teach our young girls the truth of who we really are and to be strong enough to fight against the lies.

    I am a women of a certain age, 48 to be exact, and went through a midlife crisis. Along came a wonderful book, called "Face It" it is a wonderful book written by two former models of all things, who have now aged and must come to terms with that. There is a lot of personal stories in it where some women lived by their looks and others lived as feminists who broke through the glass ceiling never giving two cents over their appearance. It is quite interesting that ALL women go through this shock when they see this changing face in the mirror. We get used to what we look like, basically the same through our 20's, 30's, and sometimes , mine came at almost 50! This is really where we have to come to once again acceptance and go through a new passage of life. And once through that, there lies on the other side a renewed sense of self and especially how our worth does not lay in how we look! It cannot, but that doesn't mean we don't stop caring for our bodies. It's loving our whole self.

    I love the idea of MS. PIGGY and her take on life.

    Take care and thank you for all of your work. Continue on and glad you are a part of changing out world's perspective.


  4. K, great blog, but people should eat healthy because it is good for them and not because it grabs somebody elses attention. While I agree that pandering to norms is anti-feministic or whatever, nobody should neglect their health. My two cents. - A

  5. I suspect that feminists who live with their eye on righting the wrongs of the world make concerns about appearance more secondary. That said, I greeted a student of mine before a showing of Miss Representation last Wednesday evening. She turned in a test to me, and then said, "you dress so cute. It's really distracting in class." Naturally, I was dismayed!

  6. Well usual. I completely agree with your point of view regarding appearance. It seems counterintuitive to me that these so called feminists are so wrapped up in appearance themselves. Shouldn't they be promoting a more carefree attitude regarding how you look and focus only on what you think, say and do? How is it any more acceptable for those women to dictate that the "right" way to be is to not wear makeup, not wear "cute" clothes than it is for the editor of In Style to tell me that I should be wearing a Berry shade of lipstick this season or coral colored pants?

    Anyway, I believe that the best way promote equality between men and women is by being a compassionate, thoughtful, intellegent and empowered woman every day, in every situation you are in, regardless of what you look like, how you're dressed or how much make up you're wearing.

    Oh...and Ms. Piggy for life :)

  7. I have read every single post you've done, Kjerstin, and it finally occurred to me to comment (I haven't known about the blogging world for long xD). Discovering your blog sparked a fierce interest in body image and self-esteem that had been niggling at me for some years. Our view of our bodies is especially important to me as a Christian, as I love to dress up but loathe the judgemental and insecure attitude men and women in the Western world are encouraged to have.

    All three of these truths resonate deeply with me, as they are truths I have realised are extremely important to me. My rebellious nature has always led me to dress for my own pleasure, especially when I was younger - and I have always admired the character of Ms. (as you put it!) Piggy, as I've always thought there's no need to have looking wonderful and being adventurous as mutually exclusive. As I get older, I struggle with it more and have to remind myself of how I used to see it.

    As I'm a youth leader at my church and have been for some time, my conduct at church is such that I am always trying to be a good rolemodel for my youth group kids. I'm also friends with them on Facebook - a totally deliberate action on my part to not only be able to stay in touch with them, but also to encourage me to always act in a way that I would be proud of them seeing. This includes modesty, kindness, patience, selflessness, generosity and so on, but also loving myself and others.

    Finally, being a feminist in my small country town is not hugely controversial, but nor is it taken seriously. A "feminist" is a man-hater, bra-burner, unrealistic and sees the world from a skewed point of view. A few years ago, one of my male church friends "accused" me of being a feminist and I was extremely offended because I too had that view of feminism. These days, if he did it again I would gladly own to it, because reading blogs like yours has made me realise that as a Christian I am required to be a feminist (in this sadly unequal world, anyway - ideally we'd have a world where feminism was unknown, because inequity didn't exist), just as all my female and male friends are required to be.

    Oops! I think I turned this comment into a whole blog post! It's clearly important to me. Anyway, I'm sure you get this all the time, but I think the way you have chosen to deal with your self-esteem issues is a great way that is clearly working for you and is inspiring people like me to think more deeply about these issues (I love the intelligence with which you approach the topics on this blog) and love ourselves more.

  8. Definitely! Let's just say I'm a sociologist who loves "girly" clothes, high heels, and dresses. At times it's as though it is assumed you can have no intellect if you dress a certain way...

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