It’s Not What It Looks Like

ImageI was reading an article today about stars loving the “natural beauty look” this season. I thought I would find images of stars out in the streets looking flawless, yet normal, having left the house with only the convenience store lip gloss they found buried in their purses glittering on their mouths. Instead, I found red-carpet photos juxtaposed between the beauty products that made these looks possible. Then, the idea of the “natural beauty look” took on new form in my mind.

It’s really curious to me that popular culture presents so many ideal images to the public as if these images are reality. Just yesterday, I read about Jennifer Love Hewitt’s bust line reduction in her ad for the show “The Client List” in Entertainment Weekly. Her size went from a hefty DD to about a small C cup (based on my judgment). As a busty woman, I always assumed that a large bust was desirable and sexy. And this Love-Hewitt ad is sexy, but the altered ad is much neater. There is less cleavage showing and her lingerie fits her perfectly. In the original, her breast seem to pour out of the outfit, much more like mine would should I buy an outfit like it. But it seems that even sexy isn’t sexy enough if it isn’t also tidy.

Back to the “natural look:” What on earth is natural about makeup that makes you “look” natural? What does that even mean? I’m the last to knock people who wear makeup–I hardly ever leave the house without eyeliner, mascara, and bronzer–but I take issue with the concept of presenting this “look” as if it is how we should look naturally when it took more than one product to achieve.

Maybe we are just being merchandised. Perhaps Big Brother, The Man, whatever you wanna call it, just knows that if we were to ever embrace our natural beauty, a lot of people would lose their jobs.

I marvel at how content we seem in an altered reality.

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American Idol, The Lottery, and “Making It”

So, I have been thinking (duh!), and as I was thinking, I considered the celebrities and other wealthy people that we consider to have “made it.” Take for instance previous American Idol finalists like Fantasia Barrino, Jennifer Hudson, and Kelly Clarkson. Or consider the “rags to riches” stories of people like Tyler Perry, Kanye West, or Oprah Winfrey. All of these people have at least two things in common: 1. A buttload of money, and 2. An encouraging story of triumph that helped them make it there.

Now, I too appreciate a story of someone overcoming poverty or a dangerous and emotionally damaging youth, but I am a little concerned about the message that our erroneous tendency to equate wealth with “making it” presents to those who have yet to “make it.”

Back to American Idol. At the conclusion of the season, winners receive a contract worth some hundreds of thousands of dollars, and even the runners up make out alright from exposure. But if these past and future contestants believed that these hundreds of thousands of dollars and notoriety would make their issues disappear, I am certain they were disappointed. Let’s try Fantasia Barrino, not to be mean; I truly respect her and pray for her, but her life is a noteworthy example. We have seen the Fantasia Barrino Story and know the hardships she endured. I remember watching her season of Idol with tears in my eyes, so happy that she had won, thinking even to myself that her life would be so much easier. But fast forward a few years from her win, and the money didn’t immediately make her literate; it didn’t keep her from selling herself short in adultery, and it didn’t keep her from a nervous breakdown.

If money is the emphasized goal, why isn’t it ever enough?

With an unclaimed Mega-Millions prize still lurking in Maryland, ever wonder what happens to past winners who swiftly run into windfalls? Bob West of Oregon died within a month of receiving his jackpot, with a canary Hummer still in the driveway yet to be driven. When Denise Rossi of California found that she was a winner, she divorced her husband without a word, I assume thinking she could hoard her millions to herself. But two years later, and husband-less, Denise was ordered to pay a hefty amount to her ex.

All stories don’t end this way, and I am the last person to suggest that money is bad. Even the Bible tells us that “money answers all things” (Ecclesiastes 10:19). Plenty of charities have been funded from lottery wins, and lives have changed, some for the better. But when it comes to having “made it” I am convinced that there is a deeper level of satisfaction. I always think about this scene from James McBride’s The Color of Water where his mother, Ruth, explains that her years shaking roaches out of her hat in a rickety old apartment with her oldest child and the husband she loved were the happiest years of her life.

There is something so internal to happiness that money cannot access. And furthermore, there are some things that money just cannot change.

I urge this unidentified winner to not be deceived into thinking he has “made it.” If he is insecure, money will not make him more secure. If he is crazy, money will not make him sane. If he is lonely, money will not give him meaningful relationships. If he is content, money will not make him more content.

What will the world do when it discovers that money ≠ “making it?” I marvel at the thought…

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Romantic Comedies vs. Male Advice

I’m certain that there is nothing novel to the notion that romantic comedies are completely unrealistic, but after conversing with an uber-manly friend of mine and watching Something Borrowed in the same day, I realize what a complete set-up watching these films can be. I discovered what a complete set-up listening to my uber-manly friend can be, too. Here are a few of the contrasts I found between the two experiences.

"Something Borrowed"

  • How men pursue: According to my friend (and I have heard this before), when a man wants something, he pursues it. So, if a man isn’t chasing, more than likely he doesn’t want it. According the film, men can go years without ever addressing or pursuing their love. So, women should assume that even if he isn’t saying so or showing it, he could actually love you.
    My issue with this-If I were to believe the film, I could spend my life trying to read between the   lines without ever paying attention to what a guy is really saying (or not saying). Living like this would clearly be emotionally draining and overall disappointing. If I listen to my friend, then I should assume that every man knows exactly how to express himself and that every man is super simple to get.
  • How men handle emotions: Also according to my friend, I and other women approach getting to know someone with far too many emotions. Men don’t feel when dating; they just observe. According to the film, men are as emotionally unbalanced as women are, and one can expect to see any range of emotion at any time from men.
    My issue with this- By no means do I think that men are raging lunatics like we are, but I refuse to believe that there is not one ounce of emotion involved when a man is getting to know a woman. Men might get over things sooner, but there are emotions tied to wanting to get to know someone more or wanting to be around someone.
  • How men choose: And lastly, according to my friend, men make a choice about a woman based on how well she matches his needs and preferences. According to the film, men make choices completely contrary to their needs or preferences out of convenience.
    My issue with this- If I consider my friend’s point of view to be at all accurate, then I should assume that men know exactly what they want, apparently far better than women do. I am not so naive to take this point of view. However, the latter would make me feel hopeless. Consider: if a man does settle for you, it’s because you were his convenient mistake. I am not so cynical as to adhere to this point of view either.

So, let’s assume that these films were not created to imitate life, nor were they created to provide any pattern for realistic relationships. And let’s assume that although our male friends know a whole lot more about being a man than we do, they don’t know all there is to know about being human. But I marvel at how prone we are to make relationships like science.

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The Spark

You know that feeling you get when you first begin to get to know someone of the opposite sex? It’s the feeling when you overlook all reason and practicality and simply embrace the idea that God has seemingly answered your prayer and checked off every little box on your list of wants. You forget the bedtime and stay on the phone until 3am. You roll into work the next day in sleepy satisfaction of your blossoming romance. You smile more, and your co-workers notice, but you don’t tell them why because for now, you just want to keep this flicker to yourself, and besides, you wouldn’t want to jinx it. You roll out of the bed early on Sunday mornings met with text messages and missed calls, and as you hasten to reply, you rejoice and rest in the fact that your quick responses don’t make you seem desperate. This infatuation is mutual. You ask a few close friends some hypothetical questions like ” Could you see me with a…” or “What if I dated a…?” They give their dubious opinions, but their answers don’t matter anyway because you are far too smitten and far too removed from reality. You begin to imagine a future together with him. He fits in so well with your plans. Then, you hit the two week mark.

I marvel at how quickly the spark dies.

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Rejection of the Quirks

When I was a teenager, I was in love with a boy in my neighborhood whose nickname was “Nubbs.” Never did I question the origin of his nickname until my closest girlfriend at the time scolded me about not knowing. “What! How could you not know?” she exclaimed. I explained to her that I had just never asked, but since she already knew the answer, and she considered the information noteworthy, she dissolved my ignorance. “Girl, he is missing fingers, from not one, but both hands!” Her expose’ confused me because I had never noticed missing fingers, but the next time he invited me and some friends over, I looked for the “nubbs.” We sat in his room listening to music, when a Jay-Z song that he really liked came on, and he began to snap. I was mortified. There he was whirling and plucking his missing forefingers in the air without any regard for how the scene looked. Didn’t he know this was strange?

Around the same time, I met an underclassmen at my high school whose name I cannot now remember. The day I met her, she was dressed so neatly, clothes ironed and maybe even starched, shirt neatly tucked into belted pants. Her hair was cute, long, shiny, curled slightly at the ends. As any other slightly insecure teenage girl, I had given all these details about her a once over in attempt to size her looks up to my own, but one thing forced my eyes to double take. She was wearing flip flops, and after staring at her feet, then away at the wall enough times to fully register the image, I realized that she only had three toes on one foot. She had been so cute. Wasn’t she concerned that her toes would ruin her neat look?

In a society obsessed with altering looks and gaining perfection, I found it strange that people would be willing to accept their abnormalities, let alone boldly display them. Even more so, in hindsight, I noticed how even when someone else is comfortable with the quirks that make them different, others (like I did) project insecurities onto them. Recently, I thought about my own differences. I have extra skin outside of my right ear. I’ve joked to some that it is my super power that gives me my super-hearing. Never did I seriously consider having it removed. Never did I treat it like a sore subject or a mood damper. I can’t count the number of times people have overlooked spacial boundaries to squeeze this skin repeatedly and ask, “Does this hurt? How ’bout now?” Never did I become angry and ask why I was cursed with such an embarrassing bump. Instead, it was a conversation piece, a detail that made me just that much more interesting.

Last week, a co-worker of mine returned from Italy and explained that though the people she met didn’t share our same financial issues, they did have similar social ones, body image one of the most paramount. Girls as young as twelve years old were baring the scars of plastic surgery, fixing noses, juvenile waistlines, foreheads, etc. Girls too young to perceive how the clay of their flesh will settle and form as adults are altered and normalized. I marvel at this rejection of our special quirks.

Random Noise Makers

The other day I walked by a tennis court, and as I was passing by, I was struck by the tennis game between two middle aged white gentlemen. The first, a very tall, slender, red-headed fellow, gently stroked the ball to serve then struck the ball with low to moderate force each time it crossed the net to his side. His lack of effort almost made him seem bored. His opponent, on the other hand, a much shorter, pale and balding chap, threw himself at the ball each time, sprinting even just a few feet to meet the ball just after its bounce. In addition to his hilarious leaping and running, he ended each stroke with a Serena Williams grunt that made it seem like he was preparing for the U.S. Open. I’m sure his grunting wouldn’t have seemed nearly as bizarre had his partner shared his enthusiasm, but the one-sided-ness of his sound made the game such a curious display. I walked past, chuckling quietly and started to try to think about other people I know who are random noise makers.
I thought about my stepdad, who makes breathing before 8 am seem like such a daunting task. Every few minutes or so, he lets out a labored “uuuuuggghh” until he’s had his morning coffee. I most enjoy when he uses his home gym. While my mother and I sit in the living room we hear the clank of the weights in the basement, followed by quick “houuuuggkggg’s” that suggest that he is pushing himself past his threshold. My mother and I look at each other and laugh as she suggests, “that boy is crazy” while shaking her head.
Then there are those noise makers we don’t know. I’ve seen many of them, and while I have no problem with laughing out loud at my stepfather, something almost seems rude about immediately laughing at the others. What if their noise making is a condition? What if the noise making is some indication that I should be alarmed by them? What if they just can’t help it? Those possibilities did not stop me from laughing at Andre Agassi in training the other day, and I doubt that it will stop me any time soon. But those possibilities are interesting to think about. All the while I marvel at how entertaining random noise making is.

Prolific Writers

I had gotten an idea for a book back in December 2010 after a women’s retreat. It was to be called Loving God With All Your Heart, and I had given myself the deadline of August 2011 to finish, a deadline that I believed to be more than reasonable. Now, more than a month past that deadline, I have four pages, four pages that I hate and hope to never have to look at again. I had written them back in January after a rush of inspiration, and my friends were astonished when I told them that I actually stayed up late to complete them. But now those four pages that were written in such intensity have sucked all energy from me and all hope of me completing this book by next August.

I am afraid to delete all four pages because what if there is something really good in there that I am overlooking? I am terrified of re-reading those pages and starting where I left off because perhaps I could write something much better but would become distracted by what is already there. It’s like that frustration a singer has hearing her own voice on a recording. And I keep hearing that voice in the four pages, wondering where it came from. Why does she think she even has the authority to say the things she is saying? Why does she think anyone will care? Does she really think anyone will be changed? I don’t want to dialogue with that voice because I’m not even sure I like her. Perhaps someone else should write this book.

How I marvel at those who write prolifically.

Interracial Relationships

Holding HandsLet me say first that I am a lover of love, regardless of race, and I am in no way attempting to submit language that divides or offends. Nor am I trying to change minds. I just have questions, nagging ones, so this title may be a bit of a misnomer because I don’t really have questions about interracial relationships as a whole. I myself have participated in, daydreamed about, and enjoyed them. And I have found interracial relationships to be dreadfully similar to same-race ones. My questions though are about Black professional athletes. And as another disclaimer, my goal is not to discredit other races of women as reasonable and qualified mates. I just want to know why dating women who aren’t Black seems to be such a status symbol.

My question stems more from a place of hurt than of mere curiosity because I notice that more often than not when a Black male athlete reaches a place of success, there is woman on his arm who is not Black. If we all pretended to not see color, then perhaps this wouldn’t be startling at all, but since we’re being realistic, can we acknowledge that there is a bit of a formula here. I believe it looks something like this : Black male athlete+success=anything but a Black woman. And this formula sends a very disheartening message to Black women. Here we are, –well in order to avoid being too inclusive or exclusive, I will use myself as an example. Here I am, growing up around Black men, admiring Black men, and loving Black men. And here I am thinking that I will one day be the prize of one said Black man. But every time a Black male athlete chooses to overlook a Black woman, he tells her over and over again that she does not fit in with the image of success, that though she was great when he was broke, she is no longer suitable to a wealthy and successful man. How hurtful this is! And perhaps, I am taking things a little out of context, but I wonder how much of this is a figment of my imagination and how much of this is a case of deeply rooted rejection within the Black race.

Perhaps I lied–at least to myself. Maybe I really am trying to change minds. And maybe I’m not just hurt but annoyed at how insensitive this bold display of renunciation of Black women can be. Perhaps I thought that in 2011 Black women wouldn’t have to stomach feelings of being second best. Perhaps I thought Black men, even successful ones, saw Black women as valuable too.

I marvel at still how sensitive some racial wounds are.

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Social Networks

Of the many things that cause me to wonder, social networks, or at least the implications of social networks, are certainly one of them. As I use my blog, what I consider to be social network offspring, I think about the home assignments that I received as a grade school student that I could hardly imagine giving to my own students. I remember cutting and pasting (in the archaic sense of the phrase) newspaper articles to notebook paper, being ever so careful not to use too much glue and to give myself just enough space to write my thorough summary and analysis. I think about licking stamps to invite all of my friends to my birthday party and interrogating every blank invitation until I find just the right pattern. I think about knocking on my neighbor’s door to sell gourmet cakes for my school fundraiser around Christmas. I can’t remember the last time someone has knocked on my door without me eying the nearest weapon before approaching the peep-hole.

I marvel at how something created to bring us together has made us so afraid of each other. I find it bizarre now when someone just strikes up conversation with me in public. I’m much more used to seeing faces buried into smart phones. I sat in the car the other day with a friend for hours, and we sat, with phones out, discussing our tweets, barely looking one another in the face and interrupting one another periodically with laughter when someone tweeted something particularly funny. And the last time I was asked out on a date was via Facebook message.

I marvel at how something that holds my attention at times for hours has somehow rendered me inept in diligence. My mind wanders when I read the stuff that matters and even during my prayers. Social networks: compromising my social life and even subjecting my anti-social habits to unproductivity. How I marvel…