what really matters (my last post)

“People like you more when you’re attractive,” said a friend of mine who has spent a lot of time losing weight and getting fit. “It’s been proven. There are a lot of studies. You’re more likely to succeed.”

“Okay,” I said. “That stuff about CEOs? Where they’re always tall?”

“Yeah,” she said. “That too. They’re always tall and have all their hair. It’s practically a law.”

I thought immediately of my dad, who is admittedly not the CEO of a fortune 500 company, but who has been successfully running a business for close to forty years. He is short and bald and didn’t go to college. He should probably be a failure. According to some study.

“It matters,” I said, slowly, “But I’m never sure just how much.”

“A lot,” she said, her voice hard.

“Maybe,” I said. “But maybe not.”

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(I made a little cake for this post. I am a shitty baker. Shitty is probably exactly the right word, based on how this looks…)

When I started writing this blog about four years ago, I was positive that beauty mattered a lot. That’s why I wanted to write about it. I wanted to do something. I wanted to fight back, even if it was in a small way. How many of my friends were going to confess that they’d struggled with disordered eating back in college? More than I could imagine at that time, and it was already plenty. I had gotten cosmetic surgery to change my face, because I’d become convinced that if I could only get a little prettier, my life would improve exponentially. Oh, it sounds so superficial, doesn’t it, when you’re being quick and dismissive and morally superior. We’re all good at that. Plastic surgery is for weaker, sadder women. Except that I am one of them. And I know so many more. People I never would’ve guessed. People I never could’ve predicted.

I’ve always blamed the whole world for this. Biology, culture, misogyny, TV, advertising, ancient history, patriarchy, agricultural development, school, work, horizontal social groups in childhood that emphasize peers over mentors, the human tendency to instinctively dichotomize, our cocky refusal to admit how many problems remain even after women were finally admitted to Harvard, and so much more. The messages about just how crucial and big beauty is come from absolutely everywhere. They come all the time. They are quiet and loud and insistent and just a subtle suggestion and most of all, they are effective. They get in. They stick. They stay. And they trap us on our surfaces, agonizing over details, fretting, pinching, shaming ourselves. Because we have learned the obvious lesson: beauty matters. It matters a lot. Sometimes it matters so much that people stop eating in order to force their bodies to change. Sometimes it matters just enough to feel occasionally disgusted by your own flesh. It feels normal to dislike our appearances because it is normal. It’s completely ordinary. It’s the way things so often go.

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But I find that I am some sort of pathetic, yearning optimist after all. Four years after I started writing about beauty, about a year after I had a daughter, I find myself thinking that beauty also doesn’t have to matter that much. I inch away from it. My face in the mirror is the same one I once hated, but older, of course, and maybe even more complicated. And yet I find myself forgiving it. My body, rearranging itself again after pregnancy, is a celebration. It has transformed so dramatically. Like a movie star who suddenly gets a PhD, it’s hard to keep up, but someone should throw them a party. The things that separate me from models and even from the women who everyone automatically thinks “wow” about are less significant in my own mind right now. I saw myself in the trailer for this film my doula is making, and I think I look TERRIBLE and weird and like I don’t know how to move my own mouth and like I maybe have suffered some sort of traumatic brain injury that I am only just recovering from and like I don’t have a chin and like I am not at all normal, and also, even though I think all of that, I think I sound fine. Maybe even a little smart. And I am also proud of the way I look. Maybe not there. But here, in real life. Sitting here in my wrinkled shirt from Old Navy that has a smear of banana on it from the baby, writing at my laptop. I like myself. I am happy. I am proud of being this person. I am proud of looking like me.

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I look around and I see that people find wild, fulfilling love without being stunningly gorgeous. That people are happy or sad in proportions that don’t seem to really correlate with their appearances. That I admire people or find them boring without their beauty having too much meaning. People are successful all the time without being very thin. And then some of the types of success that people like to measure don’t even look that interesting to me.

I’m going to stop writing this blog now.

I argued with myself over this decision for a long time.

And I’m bad at this sort of thing. At graceful exits.

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I’m not going to stop writing, ever. I can’t. I’m a writer. But I think I’m done being a blogger.

I have loved connecting with people from around the world. I’ve loved meeting them in person, sometimes, when they visited NYC or I visited somewhere else. I’ve made good friends this way. I’ve heard many hundreds of life stories. I’ve gotten recognized a few times on the sidewalk and felt cool. I’ve knocked professional goals off a stubborn list. I’ve gotten very fast at writing essays. I’ve proven to myself that I could build something out of nothing. I’ve been amazed by how many people were interested in reading my words. I’ve embarrassed myself and distinguished myself and gotten furious and hurt and once someone wrote to me to tell me she hated me and we talked and talked and she changed her mind and apologized and told me her story. People I’ve never met have told me I suck and I’m stupid and I’m shallow and I’m harmful and I’m generally a huge humiliating failure. People I’ve never met have told me that they are grateful for me. Once someone offered to tithe to me. People I’ve never met were happy for me when I was happy and sad for me when I was sad. Thank you so much for that. When I started blogging I’d literally never read a blog. Four years later, I think this experiment has taught me a lot about my own worth.

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I’m stopping because I feel done. I feel ready to focus on other things. I thought that this blog might one day lead to a memoir and I worked for a long time on a book proposal, but when I had the chance to finally sell the book, I realized that I didn’t want to put it into the world anymore. I don’t want my legacy to be about my childhood, about my struggles and issues and little triumphs. I don’t really want to expose myself in that way anymore. I don’t want to read the Amazon reviews about how self-centered I am. I don’t want people to notice the story and forget about the writing. I don’t want my daughter to think of me as a woman primarily concerned with her own self-esteem, her own dramas. I don’t want my daughter to grow up watching me analyze beauty. I want her to see me being comfortable with who I am, creating new stories instead of pulling apart old ones.

For the time being, I’m still going to write over at the Sydney Morning Herald’s Daily Life, and I still write a column for Home Education Magazine, and I am working on transitioning this website into something more general, that will include all of my preexisting posts and my e-book and the beautiful cake eating photos that I treasure, and also have room for the new things I want to eventually do. I’m not sure how long they’ll take. I know the internet moves very, very fast, but I want to go slower. I want to watch Eden sit on the kitchen floor and thoroughly delve into her first nectarine. And I want to wait until she’s finished without thinking about what I should be doing instead. I want to keep the promise I made to myself a long time ago, that I would write fantasy novels with strong, awesome girl protagonists.

Anyway. I’m not sure what else to say. Except thank you, again. And if you like my writing, please stay tuned.

I didn’t convince my friend, by the way. At least, I don’t think I did. She is doing her best to tease a successful life out of the tangle of human experience. We all are. Me too. Except for me, right now, there’s a lot less looking in the mirror.

So much love,

Kate

edenwalking

Unroast: Today I love my eyes. Just for being mine. They’re interesting.

P.S. To the people who have been emailing me to see if everything’s OK– I’m sorry for not responding to you individually yet. I hope I can soon! I appreciate your messages so much.

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Kate on June 19th 2014 in beauty, life, writing

first Mother’s Day, a memorial post

This is for Peggy. And, of course, for Maggie. 

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Maggie texted me that there was something she had to tell me. I texted back “what’s up?” she called and she said, “My mom died.” Her baby is three weeks old. There is a picture of her mom holding him, smiling up at the camera, new grandmother pride, and the baby is JUST born, his face still scrunched and peaceful. My mind doubles back, getting confused, folding time into new, impossible arrangements. She can’t die, I reason, because she looks too young in the photo. She can’t die, because she is a grandmother now, and because she is in perfect health. I think I see her jogging on the side of the road. See, that’s her! She’s just missing. It’ll be fine. She can’t be dead because it’s Maggie’s first Mother’s Day now.

“Mother’s Day was invented by Hallmark,” my brother Jake reminds me when he calls to wish me a happy one. “I mean, no offense, since you’re a mom now and stuff. But it’s kinda a bullshit holiday.” He’s laughing, he really doesn’t mean any offense.

“Mother’s Day is the best holiday ever,” I say, laughing too. “It’s the best thing Hallmark ever did! Everyone should thank their mom. Moms are a big deal.”

“Yeah, figures you’d think that now,” he says and we talk about a thing happening at grad school.

When Maggie and I were growing up together, two little homeschooled girls running around in the woods, always covered in dirt (“soil!” my mom reminds me), our mothers were in the background of the photos. We are front and center, in Revolutionary War costumes that we made for Jake’s colonial-themed birthday party that year that all we read about was the American Revolution. I had a crush on Ben, who was the tallest, oldest boy in the homeschooling group, and Ben had a crush on Maggie, who was always so pretty even though she never for one second cared about clothes back then. The drama of being ten and eleven and twelve played out in the local parks and at the skating rink, where we did endless turns around the yellowing ice every Friday late morning through early afternoon, when the homeschoolers reigned over empty community spaces. That our mothers were doing something radical and huge and daring and weird with our childhoods, with their adulthoods, was not considered. What was considered was that Matt hated having his green baseball cap stolen, so it was everyone else’s mission in life to steal it.

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Kate on May 14th 2014 in family, friendship, motherhood

stop analyzing your single friends

You have to find yourself to find love, goes the mantra. You have to love yourself enough to attract love into your life. You have to be already be complete before someone else can complete you (wait, what?).

A lot of the advice hurled at single people suggests that there is more work to be done. You have to solve your issues. You have to learn to be happy, all of the time, on your own.

Single women are constantly blamed: You’re giving off the wrong energy. You’re too desperate. You’re not open enough. You’re intimidating. Men are attracted to non-threatening, smiley women with big, friendly teeth and a successful career that isn’t successful enough to be intimidating. You have to be self-sufficient but not to the extent that it renders you unfeminine. And don’t text him so soon after the date! And don’t sleep with him right away, for f*@ks sake! Or, wait, maybe do. You don’t want to be weird and uptight about sex.

A happy, committed relationship is dangled like the yummy, carb-y prize at the end of a grueling marathon of personal improvement.

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(source)

My own journey to love was more like a lazy stroll down the block.

I am an online dating success story. “Just sign up and try it for a month!” my best friend urged.

I signed up. I jotted a quick profile, slapped up a lone, somewhat flattering photo and flung my single self out into the universe. Two weeks later, I went on a first date with a guy who sounded funny and smart in writing. He was even more than those things. I fell in love with him right away. We got engaged six months later. We’ve now been married for four years and I am still bowled over by his awesomeness. He lights up my days.

So of course, immediately after meeting him, I started preaching the gospel. “You have to sign up!” I told my single friends. “Just try it! You never know who you’ll meet!”

I talked quite a few of them into it. They went out hopefully on first dates. They reported back. Some duds. Some weirdos. And then some guys who seemed wonderful but suddenly disappeared after having sex. Nice guys who they didn’t “click” with. Gorgeous guys who seemed to be drifting, distracted. Cool, shaggy-haired photographer guys who texted “I might be free in an hr. wanna meet up?” and then canceled.

We analyzed and analyzed. I tried to be encouraging.

“Wait,” they started to say, “you met him after being on the site for how long?”

“Two weeks,” I said, but now it felt like bragging. So I began to say, “Maybe a couple months?” But soon even that sounded very quick, unrealistic.

A few of my friends found love online or elsewhere, but the majority of them are still dating. Or they’re not dating right now. They’re taking a break, because, enough already! But soon they’ll try again. Their stories are full of incredible, buoyant hope and, increasingly, creeping resignation and quiet despair.

More often now, they ask, “What is wrong with me?”

We try to figure it out sometimes.

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Kate on May 7th 2014 in friendship, relationships

real women, size 12-14

I got an email from one of those extremely popular TV shows that no one I know actually watches. I was trying to feed myself with one hand and spooning sweet potato into the baby’s mouth with the other. The email had come up on my phone and I thumbed over it messily, unable to resist.

Would I be interested in coming on the show, the email asked, to talk about my experience as a real woman?

I was interested! Yes! I will talk about being a woman on national television! It’s a powerful, sometimes difficult, confusing, meaningful experience! For me, personally, there is this big question about yoga—is it possible to go through life as a modern woman without doing it at all?

But wait. There was a little more.

They were looking specifically for someone size 12-14, who isn’t comfortable with her appearance. This, succinctly, was the working definition of “real woman.”

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(source)

So, how about it? The emailer was obviously in a hurry, but she was friendly.

Eden banged on the table. MORE. Seriously, cow, what’s the hold-up? (She refers to me as her cow, you know, with her eyes, even when I’m not actively giving milk. It’s a pesky habit.)

I laughed at my phone and gave her more. Then, immediately, without thinking, I wrote back. And then I thought for a minute.

I am generally a proponent of the “we all know what was meant” school of thought. I think maybe this is an underrepresented group on the internet—generally I pretend I’m not a member, in order to avoid being unnecessarily yelled at. Political correctness in language has become so nit-pickingly obsessive that it can sound a lot like a desperate effort to make up for the wanton callousness of the in-person world. Some pieces have so many disclaimers, you can hardly find the subject text. (“I fully recognize my own privilege, in its every complex, subtle, tiny iteration: to begin, I am sighted, so I am able to clearly make out these letters that form the words I am typing, which gives me a significant advantage in life over people who suffer from a range of ocular differences that affect the way that they perceive and are able to interact with the visual world. Of course, not everyone will understand this as an ‘advantage,’ per se, and to even use this sort of judgment-laden language reveals my own implicit biases…”)

I also totally appreciate how tempting it can be, as a relatively smart person who reads a lot, to quibble over semantics. You feel like you’re accomplishing something, doing nerdy battle against the forces of ignorance and oversimplification and raising the red pen of equality. I spot a typo in the New York Times, sometimes, and a small, smug smile seizes my lips and I shake my head disapprovingly. “Ha! Gotcha!” The writer assumes that everyone is male—I roll my eyes and resist the urge to leave a pithy, biting comment. I AM NOT A MAN, thanks very much. (I need to maybe work on my biting comments, anyway).

So when you say “real woman”, giant TV show, I know what you’re talking about.

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Kate on April 23rd 2014 in beauty, body, feminism, perfection, weight

the bed-sharing weirdos and other dangerous people like me

A friend shared the article on Facebook. It was about me, and how I’m irresponsible and dangerous and possibly a smidge un-American. How I make bad choices. Isn’t it crazy, how someone could be as crazy as me? A bunch of people agreed, in the comments underneath. Under the article itself, back on its host site, a fierce, self-important debate raged. “Anyone who acts like this is an idiot and should have their citizenship taken away. We don’t need people like you in this country,” announced “ArmyMom” from North Carolina.

“If you met me, you might not think that,” I wanted to say. I always want to say that and I never do.

It wasn’t the first time an article like that has been written and shared. And of course they’re not really about me, individually (although this has actually happened once or twice, too! But usually on someone’s blog, not, like, in New York Mag). They’re about people like me. Weird people who do weird things. A representative from the League of Normal People has to come along and write a chastising explanation about why we are bad.

Sometimes it leans towards tough love: “I know you think you’re doing yourself a favor now, but you’ve got another big, loud, smack-in-the-ass think coming REAL SOON, honey.”

Sometimes it’s sneering: “What is WRONG with these people? Do they have any contact with reality? Um, hello. Reality is over here, weirdos, with the normal people. Get over yourselves and maybe we’ll consider one day sharing our cold, hard, real-American pizza with you.”

Sometimes it’s scientific: “Recent Conclusive Statistics show that your weird behavior is more likely than our normal behavior to result in death and lower SAT scores and also bad breath.”

Sometimes it’s defensive: “APPARENTLY, according to the weirdos, we’re SUPPOSED to do this crazy thing…And I felt pressure from the weirdos to think about my life differently. But then I decided not to, because that was too hard and weird, so I’m doing the normal thing but I’m mad at the weirdos for even suggesting that there is another way to do it!”

I am amazed by the volume of articles in this last category. I see them everywhere. People proudly defending their right to do the totally expected, ordinary thing against the imagined onslaught of opinionated weirdness.

But where are all the opinionated weirdos? I wonder. I glance around hopefully. Anyone? Hello? Where are the influential, popularizing weirdos who are marching at the front lines, waving their banners and demanding that everyone follow suit?

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(source)

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Things I want to change by the time Eden notices

(This is not at all a comprehensive list. It’s just the first stuff that came to my mind. And my mind is all over the place.)

I want more movies and TV shows to have female protagonists even when they aren’t about “girly stuff.”

I want the way coolness works to stop being about not being sensitive. Sensitivity and vulnerability are healthy, crucial aspects of being a fully operating person. Without them, we miss out on the things that make poetry timeless and life rich. Making fun of ourselves and other people is not necessarily a bad thing, but there needs to be plenty of room for caring automatically and whole-heartedly and even just a little about stuff, too. Or maybe we can just all care less about being cool?

I want it to be a lot harder to find gross photos on the internet. I feel like we should all be able to google without running into graphically documented surgical procedures and abused animals and car crashes and unusual, dramatic skin conditions.

I would also appreciate it if there weren’t so very many photos of sexy mostly/totally naked women online and everywhere else. And if those women didn’t all look so particularly similar that it feels easy to assume that there must only be one good way to be a mostly/naked woman.

I want there to be more swimsuit options. Why do they all demand that I pay a lot of attention to what my pubic hair is doing? Mandatory bikini waxing is ridiculous. If we can’t get over the fact that adult women have pubic hair, let’s at least wear swim trunks.

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(googling for “bikini” resulted, predictably, in a million examples of the last topic, too. maybe I just wanted to see the bathing suit? maybe? source)

I want porn to actually be varied. I keep reading about how it is. Whenever someone writes an article about porn, they’re always like “you can find any crazy thing out there! If there’s a fantasy, there’s a video of it on the internet!” But the reality is that most of the readily accessible porn is endless repetition of the same themes, and popular among those themes is total female submission and, often, humiliation. Yes, some women like to be humiliated, but that’s not the point. We need a lot more versions of female sexuality, and it’d be much better if they popped up, too, upon a casual googling.

I want girls to be able to run around and study and make friends and play and goof off and think and look in the mirror without having to prioritize their appearances. Being embodied is about a lot of stuff, not just the way we look. I want girls to enjoy their bodies without having to think first about whether or not other people find them attractive.

I want this for women, too, but it starts with girls.

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what older women should look like

“Sharon Stone Tells Shape She Doesn’t Want To Be ‘An Ageless Beauty,’ Is Still One Anyway” goes the Huffington Post headline. It’s refreshing, says the reporter, that Stone doesn’t long for eternal youth. It’s refreshing, also, we’re clearly meant to agree, that she looks eternally youthful.

This is how we, as a culture, celebrate older women, when we celebrate their beauty. And often, unfortunately, we are celebrating beauty first and the rest later, in a smaller room in the back. We praise those women who, like great illusionists, amaze with the magic trick of their appearances. We are impressed with women over forty for looking like they’re not yet. We admire women for confusing us at first sight, we show respect to the ones who can manage, mysteriously, to look nothing like nature suggests they should look.

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(source)

I am in my late twenties, and it would be nice if the future of my face wasn’t so dire.

But maybe that’s just life. Maybe these are the cold, hard, disappointing facts. You get older, you look worse, so deal with it.

OK, fine. I think that would be fine, if we could all agree that looking “worse” isn’t a big deal. Actually, I can imagine a world in which everyone agreed that we all look crappier and crappier with each passing year, but simultaneously, we care less and less about the way we look, so it’s practically irrelevant. Sounds like fun! I picture myself, seventy-seven and sloppy, my hair buzzed for convenience, sunbathing in the floppy nude on a European beach. Now that’s the life.

The problem is, we can’t agree on this vision for the future (what? The rest of you don’t want to see me naked on the beaches of my sunset years?).

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Kate on April 2nd 2014 in beauty, body, fear, perfection