still worship this love

Over the past few years my excitement for Taylor Swift’s album releases has dwindled. The lead up to 2017’s reputation was tainted by the drama that surrounded it , and the catchy but cringey song (and accompanying music video) for “Look What You Made Me Do” . While I grew to love reputation, it still didn’t feel like Swift’s best work (I would argue that Red, her 2012 album, is her best). I was even less excited for Lover which saw Swift return to a brightly coloured, pure candy pop.

If reputation was an attempt at growing up—an overly performative and seemingly forced attempt—then Lover is Taylor giving up on clarifying the grittier details, instead going for a sound (and image) that’s sweeter, brighter and bubblier. Songs like “ME!” and “London Boy” are inane and hollow, centimetres away from becoming the leading tracks for Kidz Bop 257. Despite that, Lover still has these moments of subtle snark and uncertainty and sharp perspective, which feels more genuine than reputation. Swift is not the badass that she was trying to be on that album, but she’s no longer trying to be everyone’s best friend. There are things that she has seen that she can’t unsee, and she confronts them in the best way she knows how. On “The Man,” a song I truly love, she addresses how much her media image is distorted by her position as a woman. She calls out criticism that she dates too many people (“They'd say I played the field/before I found someone to commit to”; “And they would toast to me, oh let the players play/I’d be just like Leo in Saint-Tropez”) and criticizes how braggadocious women—about their money, about their talent—are portrayed as rude, bitches, bad women. It’s a message that people quickly bristle at, especially coming from Swift who’s known to self-victimize, but it doesn’t make it any less true. Songs like “The Man” and “I Forgot That You Existed” display how fed up Swift is with trying to please everyone, a powerful move for someone whose brand is likability. 

On Lover, Swift’s world has grown—on “Soon You’ll Get Better” she documents the experience of her mother’s cancer diagnosis and subsequent treatment; “You Need to Calm Down” is a shallow defense of the queer community and a fuck you to trolls—but it’s still Taylor’s world. It’s still a world in which it’s Taylor Swift against the big bad wolf. It’s still a world in which high school is the best metaphor for the complexities and joys of life (“Miss Americana and the Heartbreak Prince”). And it’s still a world where Taylor always comes out on top.

There are many moments in Lover that feel genius, that are Taylor Swift at her best (“Cruel Summer”; “False God”). But at the end of the day, after seven albums, I wish she’d given more. 

many thoughts, no notes

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In Peter Paul Rubens’ Portrait of Jan Vermoelen, the subject has a sheathed sword on each side of his waist. His stance is strong and it’s clear that this is a fighter (he became the General Commissioner and Admiral of the Spanish fleet after this portrait was done). For the portrait, he’s taken off his hat and his gloves as an attempt to be more open. But the tight grip he has on both, the guarded look in his eyes demonstrates a man who isn’t entirely comfortable. What struck me about this portrait, and has kept it on my mind all day, is how you’re immediately met with vulnerability. The glint in Vermoelen’s eye, which Rubens captured so precisely it jumps off the canvas, speaks volumes about a man who isn’t sure who is he is. Who still hasn’t figured out how to present himself to the world.

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I saw the portrait as part of the Art Gallery of Ontario’s exhibition, Early Rubens. The collection was incredible; in addition to portraits like Jan Vermoelen, there were a few religious paintings with a focus on three events: Lot’s incest with his two daughters, Delilah’s betrayal of Samson, and Christ’s body being carried off the cross. Unlike other religious paintings I’ve seen before, Ruben’s work doesn’t feel like wholehearted devotion. There is an appreciation for the stories but also a questioning of the moral lessons they’re supposed to hold. In Samson and Delilah (c. 1609-10), Delilah’s face communicates disgust at Samson’s slumbering and unmagnificent figure. Yet, her hand lies tenderly on his back. Was Delilah perversely wicked or did she have to put love aside to save herself? Rubens would say that it’s a bit of both. In Lot and his Daughters (c. 1613-14), the painting that intrigued me the most, the sensual leer of both Lot and his daughter complicate the identification of predator and prey. On one hand, Lot is the creepy father whose hunger for his daughters is unconcealable. On the other, his one daughter (the dark haired one) looks at her father with equal hunger, and the clearness of her intention gives her a certain amount of power. The atmosphere is charged with the tensions of wrongdoing, uncertainty, and the reckless and explosive power wielded by the powerless.

the holy gestures are broken

I spent today sneakily reading Patricia Lockwood’s piece on John Updike, “Malfunctioning Sex Robot” while I shuffled around work. I had first seen the essay mentioned sometime last week in a morning newsletter and then later on Molly Young’s Instagram but didn’t click on the link, and mostly forgot about it. John Updike is a name that I know but which I am not intimate with, which I have no stakes in. But then this morning I finished reading Emily Nussbaum’s essay “Confessions of a Human Shield,” from her book I Like To Watch: Arguing My Way Through the Revolution, in which she talks about what we do with the art of bad men. She mentioned Updike and my interest was piqued. I found the Lockwood link and started reading.

“Malfunctioning Sex Robot” is scary good. From its first lines, I knew that I would be intrigued no matter how much I cared (or didn’t care) about John Updike. Lockwood’s writing is sharp and quick; funny and beautiful. Every word she writes is full of the strongest images and it feels like she’s put everything into every sentence. The essay is made up of lines like this: “These characters are inside cities, rooms, America — just as they are inside the body of God, which is a great skin of feeling without perimeter”. Another one: “Back and forth he goes on a court of pages, doing the drills, making the long liquid stubborn muscles that will support him up to the end, that will automate certain movements that began as holy gestures”. The way Lockwood writes about Updike’s work makes me desperate to get my hands on his books and find the pleasure, the (sometimes) beauty, that she once found there. And then I remember the ugly part. The misogyny part. The racism, homophobia, unapologetic part. Then I cringe. Then I want to read his books again. But what I’m getting from Lockwood’s essay, and also Nussbaum’s, is that this is the feeling we are left with when we’re faced with art by bad men, especially art we love by artists who we love (or once loved). It’s not simply “cancel them” and it’s not simply “we must separate the art from the artist”. It’s not simple at all.

Whenever I talk about this topic with my friends—cancelling problematic people—the thing that I tend to bring up is that it’s very easy for us to “cancel” people that you don’t care about, whose art doesn’t mean anything to you. I for one am known for yelling, “cancel him” when it news about a bad man comes out. Even though I loved Kevin Spacey for years and watched House of Cards religiously, it was easy for me to commit to never investing my time or money into any of his endeavours. I had once loved Woody Allen so much that I enrolled in high school drama so I could grow up to be a director-actor like he was. But, after Dylan Farrow came out (again!) about Allen’s sexual abuse, I knew I would not be rewatching Manhattan. All good and fine. Because I had already gotten bored of House of Cards. Because Allen’s films had gone downhill in recent years and he was no longer an idol of mine. What was tricky was Aziz Ansari. Was loudly singing the lyrics to Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror” and then cringing at the irony of the words. Was loving Chris Brown’s earlier work even though I am mostly disgusted by anything he has done in recent years. 

Ever since the #metoo movement began, and then turned into a way of analyzing our world, the question of separating the artist from their art has been ubiquitous. And we still haven’t reached an answer. When I started writing this post, I thought maybe I would end with some sort of answer. In my mind it would be something like, we can keep consuming the art, especially from the past, if we can be critical of it. If we can recognize that these men are all these bad things, and these bad things sometimes (or always) pop up in their art, but they’re also these things that once gave us pleasure; that taught us about art and life. But that wouldn’t have felt 100% right. That couldn’t have been the final answer. It feels like there can be no final answer. It’s as Lockwood says as she concludes her review: “part of the problem with our 360-view of modern authors is knowing where to put any of it. Presented with all the facts but no solid answer. So we continue asking questions. We continue wrangling with the ethics and morality of it all. We don’t try and put it away by choosing a simple answer. We let things dangle. 


still talking about influencers

I wish that I wasn’t still thinking and talking about Caroline Calloway because I’m loath to give her more attention. Yet, for the past few weeks, ever since Natalie Beach’s The Cut essay came out, I feel like I have talked about Calloway with my friends way more than I wanted to. I can’t help it; she’s like a puzzle that I feel like I’ve solved before I realize the answer is not straightforward. I am intrigued by the opinions people have of her--positive, negative, or critical--because I’m still not sure what to think of her. On one hand, I find her extremely frustrating. After The Cut story came out, I texted a friend: “what irritates me most about caroline is that she represents a type of white privilege in which her mistakes are things that make her charming, a fun story to tell, rather than someone who is disreputable”. On the other hand, I wonder if there’s something to her. A large part of Calloway’s brand is taking on her critics, and her largest criticism of their criticism is that people don’t take her seriously because she is openly and unapologetically ambitious. And she’s not wrong.

There’s plenty of reasons why people are averse to influencers, but their desire for fame is the one that I hear the most. The idea that influencers are primarily motivated by a desire for fame and attention, to some, is the worst thing in the world. Influencers, in the truest form of the word, are not interested in becoming really great photographers or filmmakers or writers. They’re interested in becoming famous and when they do it’s usually for capitalizing on their physical beauty. Though celebrities have been doing that for years, there’s something about influencers in particular that digs people the wrong way. 

In “The Writer as Influencer,” writer Allegra Hobbs suggests that the distinction between the writer-as-influencer (Jia Tolentino and Sarah Nicole Prickett are named) and the influencer-writer (Calloway) is the purposeful pursuit of recognition on a platform. Whereas the writer-as-influencer’s personal brand is sort of an incidental consequence of being great writers online, the influencer-writer has created a distinct brand in which “writer” is one of many elements that make up the glowing, beautiful, and curated image of their brand. In her essay, Hobbs is questioning whether that distinction really matters, especially when the endgame is the same. I would agree that the distinction doesn’t matter. To stress that it does is to reiterate a long held and problematic trope: the Cool Girl. When I first heard that monologue in Gone Girl, I was so excited. Finally someone had said what I’d always wanted to say. Despite all the criticism of that trope, our culture still upholds its tenets. We’re more likely to root for the girl who is effortlessly hot, naturally funny and whip smart than the girl who makes it clear that she wasn’t born that way.

Somehow, without meaning to, Caroline Calloway--along with the reaction toward her--has become a critical study of the acceptable and unacceptable ways that women can be visible. Women in the public sphere have always been subject to these criticisms, and on Instagram, it’s not anything new. Even when we want to pretend that there’s something distinctly different about this particular moment.

I don’t believe that anyone becomes an influencer completely by accident. And even if they do, they don’t stay influencers by accident. To keep people’s attention, you have to keep feeding them.

incandescent rage

As I mentioned last week, I just finished Rebecca Traister’s latest book Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger. I first read an excerpt from the book sometime in 2018 and was automatically engaged. I love women’s anger and I love reading about it more.

The act of a woman opening her mouth with volume and assured force, often in complaint, is coded in our minds as ugly”
— Good and Mad, pg 54

Early on in the book, Traister talks about the way women’s anger has been expressed in popular culture, specifically in the work of Beyonce. She talks about the video for “Hold Up” (from Beyonce’s Lemonade) and the way in which the fire hydrants that burst forth with uncontrollable water were reflective of a woman’s anger. Later, I was listening to the song and paid special attention to its lyrics. More than ever before, Beyonce’s refrain of “what’s worse/looking jealous or crazy” struck me. Even more so when she decides that she’d “rather be crazy,” suggesting that expressing her anger--and looking crazy--was better than sitting in bitter silence. For a long time I’ve been interested in how women’s expression of negative emotions, whether it be moroseness or anger, makes them monsters in the face of the world. And sometimes women do become monsters. Because at some point, it is exhausting to stay smiling while the patriarchy continues to stomp us into the ground. And so we rage. We use foul language and create “Shitty Media Men” spreadsheets and we act ‘crazy’ because it’s what we have to do to make things change. Traister’s book primarily focuses on the moment after the 2016 Presidential Election, but she recognizes that women’s anger and revolution is not new. It goes back to the centuries. To the French Revolution even. And it’s worked. It’s changed things. It hasn’t been neat or easy or consistent, but it has worked.

Throughout Good and Mad, Traister talks about the ways in which the expression of women’s anger can backfire. How the messiness of it can undermine or derail the revolution that we seek. But as Traister recognizes at the end of the book, we must go on. We must remember this anger. Because it is our driving force. And it will save us before it ever destroys us.

Good and Mad also made think about Solange’s “Mad” and the lyric where someone asks Solange why she’s mad, and she responds: “I got a lot to be mad about”

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  • My friend Kyle made a playlist called “road trip with bloody tires” which is made for quiet and steamy summer mornings. It reminds me of something that would play all day in an old house, or as the background to scenes from Donna Tartt’s A Secret History. After giving this a listen put on Kelsey Lu’s “I’m Not in Love” which I asked to be put on the playlist but has yet to find its place there.

  • Been reading Tina Brown’s The Vanity Fair Diaries which makes me nostalgic for a certain literary New York crowd that I don’t think really exists; but I hope it doest. Brown’s writing is quick and sharp, making the book easy to pick up and put down—perfect for the last lazy days of summer.

  • Saw the new Netflix documentary on Cambridge Analytica, The Great Hack, and was mildly disappointed. It’s premise: how the influence of Cambridge Analytica over the 2016 U.S. presidential elections and Brexit, specifically the data harvesting, brought about new questions about data advocacy. Should’ve been vair interesting but focused mostly on Brittany Kaiser, a former employee at Cambridge Analytica, and one of the two whistleblowers who put it all out there. As I put it to my friend Charlie: it was a movie about young people choosing power and prominence above all. And I still don’t know how we’ll advocate for our data rights against increasingly powerful Tech.

who cares what i eat?

(img via tumblr)  not wellness approved

(img via tumblr) not wellness approved

The first time I remember crying over the way I consume food, I was about 10 or 11 years old. I left my yearly physical in a fit of tears, after my doctor told me that I was way over the “normal” BMI for someone my age. I ran home bawling in tears and self-hatred. In reaction to the news, I downed a pint of Oreo ice cream and a container of powdered donuts. I told myself I enjoyed every bite but I also remember it feeling like a punishment. Though I wouldn’t have described it as such back then, I was definitely a binge eater, and I definitely had an eating disorder.

If you talk to a lot of women, stories like this one are not out of the regular. Based on conversations alone, most women I know have dealt with some sort of complication with food and the way they consume it since they were children. I’ve had friends who spent junior high trying to subsist on a diet of plain popcorn. I’ve underwent diets with friends that saw us diligently recording our meals, and allowing ourselves to manically indulge (re:binge) on so-called “cheat days”. Again, none of this is new. Living as a woman in a patriarchal world in which your worth is often measured by your beauty—and beauty is defined by thinness—means that from an early age you’re taught to think about food in a very controlling way. Whether for nourishment or pleasure, food becomes something that could easily destroy you if you let it. And so, twelve year old girls go on Weight Watchers and get refuse to go the pool, lest somebody tell them that once they lose their baby fat they’ll beautiful.

For some people, the era of fad diets is one of the past. Oprah might be the face of Weight Watchers but the modern feminist knows that diets are just a tool of the patriarchy. The modern feminist knows that to spend an excessive The modern feminist subscribes to something else: wellness. Unlike the fad diets of the past, wellness is a lifestyle that is focused on overall health and wholeness. Now, if you restrict yourself to two meals a day and count a smoothie as a satisfying meal, it’s not about losing weight or anything messy like that. Now if you restrict yourself, it’s about shaping your body and its systems in order to reach the best version of yourself: full of energy, successful, and strong. Although the narrative may be different, the process and the goals are still the same.

In a recent op-ed for The New York Times titled “Smash the Wellness Industry” writer Jessica Knoll discusses her experiences with restrictive eating and how her recent discovery of “intuitive eating” has changed the way she interacts with food and her consumption of it. She describes her experience with wellness as “a poisonous relationship between a body I was indoctrinated to hate and food I had been taught to fear.” Knoll names diets like Whole30 which is premised on only eating “whole” foods for 30 days in order to determine foods that are harmful to you. It involves giving up things like gluten and alcohol (typical) as well as legumes and grains (not so much). Starving oneself (intermittent fasting, anyone?) is now acceptable in the name of wellness.

In his essay “On Food” Mark Grief talks about the ways in which, as homo sapiens, our relationship with food has changed now that many of us do not face scarcity. He touches on a variety of subjects, but what I strongly remember is how he talked about the relationship between food and health. What I generally got from the essay is that in our obsession for immortality, we turn to food as a way of controlling our lifespan. This attitude is one that I think plays a strong role in the wellness narrative. With more and more people being diagnosed with cancer at increasingly younger ages, it makes sense that people find comfort in the idea that you’ll be ok as long as you stop eating tomatoes. Furthermore, wellness encourages the idea that if your diet is wholesome and clean, your life will be as well. In his essay, Grief claims that we have come to “privatize food care as a category of inner, personal life.” How we eat has become a defining element of how we live.

Of course, having beautiful, wholesome lives is extremely appealing, and if it’s as simple as only drinking juice for breakfast, what could be the harm? For Knoll, and for me as well, the issue is that “at its core, “wellness” is about weight loss.” And while losing weight is not necessarily a negative thing, most women’s desire to lose weight is founded on the idea that thinness is the ideal, and that women who are fat or “fat-bodied” or whatever you want to call it, fail to care about themselves or their quality of life. As someone who constantly deals with guilt over my choice to order onion rings and avoid the gym, I can attest to how quickly one can fall into harmful habits (like finding satisfaction in missing meals) when living in a world where wellness is king.

As an idea, wellness is great, and being conscious about how we treat ourselves should never be a negative thing. But I would love to get to the day when thinking about what I eat and how I eat is the least important thing I have to think about. A hyper-tech future sounds frightening, but if that meant food became a passing thought instead of a ruling force, I think I might be okay with that. Or maybe that’s still dangerous thinking. Honestly, who cares?

I obviously love to talk about my relationship with food and my body.

Born from the Fire

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Black women were born with fire raging through their veins. And throughout their lives, they have used that fire to fight for themselves, and for others, in a world that sees that them as less than; as nothing; as non-citizens. While this fire can be empowering for black women, it often burns them in a world that uses black women’s passion and emotion as way to invalidate the very real struggle that they face in a hostile world. We are asked to be quiet, to be respectable, and to be grateful for the small scraps people are willing to throw our way. Yet, it is our emotion, more specifically our anger, that will save us. It is what allows us to fight everyday against the injustices that befall us and all other oppressed minorities. It is the power of this anger that Brittney Cooper’s Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers her Superpower takes on.

A mix of personal memoir and the political, Eloquent Rage breaks down the many ways in which black women face disrespect and subjugation, from the way they are treated in romantic relationships to the responsibilities that their churches and communities place on them. In the chapter, “White Girl Tears,” Cooper addresses the relationship that men, black and white alike, have with black women, who they’re happy to have take care of them, but refuse to love. She talks about the ways in which black men are quick to defend white women over black women *ahem Daniel Caesar*, and the way in which black-white interracial relationships can be coded by internalized racism and hatred towards black women. In “Orchestrated Fury”, Cooper argues that respectability politics—”the belief that Black people can overcome many of the everyday,, acute impacts of racism by dressing properly and having social comportment”—has been used by both black and white communities to invalidate black women who don’t play by the rules. Black women that fail to remain poised and respectable, who are seen as “ghetto”, are accused of being a ‘disgrace to the race’. Respectability then, is used as a way of silencing black women, allowing their continued mistreatment. As Cooper says, “respectability might have got us to the highest office in the land, but it could not ensure any level of long-term respect for Black humanity.” In the chapter, as in the rest of the book, Cooper passionate and careful navigation of such politics encourages black women to let go of the rules that don’t serve them and empower themselves.

What’s great about Eloquent Rage is that Cooper doesn’t hold back. The topics that she addresses are controversial any day of the week, and Cooper is quick to call out everyone, from white feminists to Black Panther leaders. No one is exempt from her critique. Even better, Cooper stans hard for black women. While she doesn’t disregard the experience of other oppressed minorities, she makes it clear that she is riding for black women and their experience.

Reading Eloquent Rage was a necessary education. Of course there were things Cooper said that I’d heard before but there were also stories and details that I’d never heard before. And it made me think of how my desire to be likeable and agreeable to people is so closely tied with wanting them to see me, a black woman, as digestible. Without really knowing it, I’ve held the principles of respectability politics like a Bible to the chest. And Eloquent Rage showed me the power that could come from living freely; it showed me that my emotions were completely valid even when the world wants to tell me that I’m being too sensitive.

Support black writers and small businesses, and buy Eloquent Rage at your local independent bookstore

My Mother's Health Remedies

Originally written in 2018 for submission to Adeline Hocine for an article on Home Health Remedies

When I was younger, no matter what illness afflicted me—fevers, stomachaches, hay fever—the first thing my mother prescribed was a piece of ginger. Before the thought of paracetamol or cough syrups, I would be led to the kitchen where my father sliced away at a large piece of ginger. Standing in the kitchen, howling in discomfort and irritation, I would watch as he sliced away the rough brown skin, cut the large plant into chunks and crush them into a consumable paste that my mother would then cram into the corners of my mouth. Stubborn and ill, I would hold the ginger in my mouth, refusing to chew and swallow the bitter remedy. Finally, with the not so gentle urging of my parents, I would quickly and unhappily chew and swallow the ginger. And while the ginger was always a first step, and never the end-all-be-all remedy, it felt like a necessary first step to healing. It was as if I would never get better if I didn’t have some ginger to soothe me. And even the taste made me feel more horrible, I always felt better after the fact.

As an adult, I have yet to go back to this remedy that my mother depended on for so long. But the experience has left its mark. Whenever I find myself feeling poorly, I automatically reach for something that contains ginger. Long winter months and finals seasons has me drinking 4-6 cups of ginger tea, a day and when it comes to nausea, there’s nothing that feels as healing as some ginger-spiked kombucha (GT’s is my favorite). And while the ginger content in these drinks aren’t as potent as chewing the plant itself, consuming them always comforts me and makes me feel a little better (even if it’s a placebo effect).

I don’t know why my mother was drawn to ginger as a remedy. It might be the fact that is a common plant that has been used for centuries for healing, from China to West Africa, which is where we are from. I just know that despite her medical education (she’s a nurse) and the promises of “modern medicine”, it was ginger, an ancient remedy, that was her tried and true. As I reminisce of this experience from my childhood, I have a strong desire to go back to that sort of healing. Simple, raw and comforting.


tulips in the garden

the tulips that grew in the garden
were a reminder of
when my father lived his life
with soil underneath his fingernails and
sweat dripped from his lashes
like tears
sometimes he did cry
over the majesty of his garden
the garden he had built
after the world
made him a ghost
the only way he was able to hold on
was by reaching deep into the Earth
scooping out its hot core
letting it warm his cracked
and dirty
palms

in his weakest moments, he made
offers
to the sky
begs for his Father’s judgement
begs for his light to shine on him
begs for one more day

in the mornings
i look out at the garden
think of all the
dreams
and all the
lives
that are planted there
faintly, my father’s heart
bends with the wind
faintly, my father’s heart
bats its wings
always in constant flight
yet rooted in the ground

Goodbye to All That

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A few months ago I made a decision that would completely change my life, and in ways I hadn't yet comprehended. A few days ago, I got on a plane with my older sister and moved to Toronto to start a whole new life. It hasn't completely sunk in yet that I have a new home--it still feels like I'm on vacation--and that for the first time in my life, I'm on my own. That's something that I know is going to take a while to sink in.

Choosing to move away was something I did in an act of desperation--although it had been weeks since I got home from my birthday trip, I was still feeling antsy and unsettled. At first I thought that I was still feeling the aftereffects of the major burnout I had experienced months before, but as more time passed, it felt like it was more than that. In my attempts to feel better, I listened to a lot of podcasts, including Oprah's Super Soul Conversations, that were all recommended for their life-changing advice. After listening to about a million episodes, I recognized a common thread in all the advice. The only person that can make you happy is you. Trust yourself. If you're not happy with your life, change it. The idea that I was the only with the ability and power to improve my situation and change the way I felt was something that really struck me. 

And so, determined to feel better, I took some time with my journal (as recommended) and wrote about what was causing me to feel so down. One of the things that I identified was my dissatisfaction with school, and feeling like I was just moving through the motions without any motivation. I was completely disinterested in most of my classes, and despite having friends who were really great, I often felt detached from everything. The feeling to get away from school just got stronger and stronger. But dropping out didn't feel like an option for me, and more than anything, I just wanted to get away from the sleepy city with 7 month winters. So I looked to the next option: transferring schools. I'd always wanted to live in Toronto, even though I'd never been there, and so I looked into applying to schools in the city. I landed on Ryerson University, filled out an application and then begun the waiting game. 

From the moment I submitted my application, I felt relief. Sure, I felt anxiety about what was to come, but there was something that made me feel so good about taking an active role in my life. Making this choice and acting on it helped me come to the realization that for some time--I don't know how long--I had stopped taking an active interest in my life, going through motions and hoping I would land where I wanted to. In the process, I had indirectly let other people dictate my life, and choosing to move was something I had to do without thinking about other people's reactions to it.

Although I was super excited to move, I still spent the months leading up to my departure nervous that I was making the wrong decision. Was I running away from something I could solve?  Was the old adage, wherever you go there you are, applicable in this situation? There were a million moments where I thought I would just give it all up and just continue living my life as it was.

Despite my fear and nervousness about leaving, I’m glad I did it. I don’t regret any time that I lived in Edmonton--it’s shaped me in ways that I don’t even know I fully understand yet. Of course I’m scared to take this new adventure. Of course I’m going to miss the people I love, and the comfort of knowing somewhere really really well. But as I’ve been reminding myself all year, fear is never a good excuse for anything. And I’d rather give the world my heart to break than feel nothing at all.

Why I’ve Watched TATBILB 4 Times

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There are a select list of movies that I have, and will, watch more than twice. Most of these movies I’ve fallen in love with at first watch, and watch them when I’m in need of comfort. Very rarely do I watch these movies back to back. So why have I watched To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before four times since it was released? 

When I first saw the trailer for Netflix’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before I could barely contain my excitement. I'm a sucker for a good YA rom-com and it was made even better by it being the first YA rom-com with an Asian protagonist. As soon as it was released I was gunning to watch it, and so last Saturday night I stayed up way too late to have my first watch. Then I watched it every day after that. And somehow, it got better with every viewing. 

If you haven’t seen it (why???), TATBILB is about Lara Jean Covey, a 16 year old Korean-American girl who is in love with love. She obsessively reads “bodice-ripper” romance novels and writes love letters to her most intense of crushes. When these letters find their way to their recipients, Lara Jean must leave her fantasy world of love and dating, and face the very real and difficult world of love and dating head on.

[SPOILERS AHEAD] 

Lara Jean is pretty much a typical YA protagonist. She's not super popular, she's shy and her style is "quirky". But she is also has a bold and bright personality that exists outside of her love story. At one point in the film, when she's having a feel-good moment with her dad he mentions that she's always been open and fun with her family, making it clear that it's not her finding love that makes her who she is; instead the romantic love in her life allows her to open up and show more people her wonderful and hilarious personality.

Furthermore, Lara Jean has a clear understanding of what she wants and, if she's feeling bold enough, has the words to articulate it. Though she’s new to the dating scene, she has a clear understanding of her own boundaries and is open about it. When she muses about why she writes love letters she doesn't send, she mentions how it helps her understand her feelings and deal with the intensity of them. It feels really new and groundbreaking to have a young female character who doesn't invalidate the intensity of her own feelings, instead embraces them.

The complex and multi-faceted Lara Jean is played  by Lana Condor who was amazing in the role. I honestly don’t believe I’ve ever seen such an expressive face! One of the hard parts of transforming novels into films is that without the assistance of lengthy narration, we often miss out on a lot of the protagonist’s inner dialogue. While this film had its fair share of narration, there was so much story in Lara Jean's face alone. In one scene, she's concerned that she might have pushed Peter (love interest extraordinaire) away, you see her go through a whole set of emotions before sending him a silly text to test the waters. The slight shoulder shrugs, judgey pursing of the lips, eye twitches are all part of Lara Jean's personality and ways for her to express herself when she isn't feeling bold enough to say things out loud. Lana Condor's ability to add that extra dimension to a character is just insane. 

And then there's the love story! One of the first things I thought about was that Peter Kavinsky is the healthy rom-com crush we’ve needed for so long. Peter isn’t perfect, but he is kind, he is courageous and most of all, he genuinely cares for Lara Jean from the beginning, even when he's trying to reject her love letter. In most love stories like theirs, it takes a long time before our male romantic lead stops acting like an asshole and loves the female romantic lead for who she is. From the very beginning Peter never sees Lara Jean as not being worthy of their (fake) relationship because she’s not as popular as he is. In fact he’s the one who sees dating her as a benefit, and never once acts as if he is ashamed of her. It shouldn't be a big deal to have this kind of male romantic lead, but in a world where we still think detached and uncaring guys could love, it's almost revolutionary. 

I obviously have quite a lot of feelings about this movie but I'm running late and honestly, just watch it for yourself. Even if you don't feel as passionately about it as I do, it will make you feel super good. 

 

I Can't Stop Thinking about Pete Davidson

image via  Complex

image via Complex

This post is inspired by The Cut's brilliant series: I Think About This A Lot. 

Until a month ago, I had never thought of Pete Davidson in my life. In fact, I didn't even know who the tattooed, goofy-faced comedian was. Then all of a sudden he was dating Ariana Grande, they were getting couple tattoos and I was watching 10 minute compilation videos of Pete Davidson's best moments. For some inexplicable reason, I've become super invested in Ariana and Pete's relationship--maybe because I'm a sucker for a whirlwind romance; maybe because there's a lack of love in my life; maybe I'm just really BORED. Whatever it was, I was reading every possible news item about the couple and screamed alongside the rest of the world when it was announced that they were engaged! And at Robert Pattinson's birthday party to top it all off! But more than the pair's romance, it was Pete Davidson himself that intrigued me the most. Who was this guy? I don't watch SNL so had no idea what "Pool Boy" was and I like to avoid stand up comedy as much as I avoid people I went to high school with, so it's not the funny thing (although he is genuinely funny). I'm not physically attracted to him, though over the past few weeks his large teeth and bug eyes have accrued a certain amount of charm. It might be his BIG DICK ENERGY which is apparently more than just an energy, or that I've read at least two gossip items about him everyday for the past few weeks and so thoughts of him have taken over my mind. What it actually is, is the fact that, despite his multiple tattoos and penchant for snapbacks, Pete Davidson comes off like the sweetest and happiest guy. He always seems genuinely psyched whether he's talking about being happy with Ariana Grande or how much he loves Robert Pattinson (me too Pete, me too). In a world of Zayns, where it's rare for anyone to be genuinely excited by anything, Pete's joy is infectious. I honestly can't wait to keep seeing him in movies and I hope that he stays in pop culture news, even if him and Ariana fade. OR maybe they'll get married. We'll see. 

Breaking Up with Instagram (Kind of)

Two weeks ago, after listening to a podcast with Tavi Gevinson, I immediately logged out of my Instagram. This felt like a fairly radical act because like most people my age, I’m addicted to Instagram. But, just like a lot of people, it was starting to drag me down. I noticed that I was spending an insane amount of time on it, using it as a source of inspiration but not actually making anything. I was starting to feel every negative emotion that has been associated with Instagram use--jealousy, incompetency, hopelessness. But at the same time, Instagram also made me feel good and feel connected. My city can sometimes feel like the most suffocating small town ever, so when I needed to be reminded that there was something much bigger than what I was feeling, Instagram was a great reminder that there were people out there making the art I wanted to see, talking about the things I wanted to talk about, etc. I'm sure there's a study about how that's actually a negative effect but I don't care. Instagram made me feel good. Until it didn't. I needed to take a break. Pretty much all the testimonials from social media detoxes are extremely positive: "I read more! I actually read the news! I felt whole!". I had a lot of expectations.

The Beginning...

At first I just wanted to see how long I could spend logged out before I broke down and went back to my scrolling ways. I was further challenged--I couldn't just delete the app from my phone (out of sight, out of mind) because I had to keep maintaining an Instagram account for my internship. Thankfully, the account doesn't follow anyone but our company, so I was less tempted to scroll through Stories. The first few days were hard. I realized how bad my addiction was when I would pick up my phone, open the app and scroll, JUST FOR THE SATISFACTION. That was straight up scary. When I realized that, I knew I had to take a full on break. I deleted the app from my phone. That lasted about three days before I downloaded it again because I had to post a picture for a lil' opportunity I had with Lil' Shop Vintage. Then I deleted it again. The app is back on my phone because of my internship, but I've been two weeks without regular Instagram activity, which for me is MAJOR. I'm no longer spending 20 mins of my waking moments desperately scrolling through last night's InstaStories.

What I Learnt

I had hoped that after a while, I would be like, WHATEVER I’M OVER INSTAGRAM, I'M FREE OF SOCIETAL CONSTRAINTS! I also had half hoped that I would be able to call bullshit on social media detoxes and go back to my endless scrolling and refreshing without any feelings of guilt. But neither of those things happened. I ended up somewhere squarely in the middle. Being logged out of Instagram has been great--I've been able to concentrate when I'm working, I have been able to read more, and I've had less time to compare myself to other people, instead using that energy to gas myself up. At the same time, I miss some of the accounts that I follow and I find myself looking for photos or quotes I had saved on Instagram. 

I don't think Instagram is a wholly bad thing (feel free to disagree) but I do think that I would benefit from a lot more time off of it. My internship will soon come to a close and it won't be necessary for me to have the app on my phone anymore. There's a project that I want to work on this summer, and I want to see what I'm capable of without Instagram. Who knows what will happen but I'm willing to give it a try. I know now that I'm not powerless against social media. And that's really the lesson I needed to learn.

To Have a Body

"Grace Meets Matisse" (2016)  Elise Peterson

"Grace Meets Matisse" (2016) Elise Peterson

Body positivity. Body confidence. Love your body. These days, messages like these are hard to avoid. In the past few months, it’s become extremely popular to see Instagram posts in which people compare the differences in their body in a posed photo and when it’s relaxed. There are so many messages for us to love our bodies, although these are often followed by images of thin and toned bodies and ads (upon ads) that all promise you a "better" body in as little as 14 days. The conflicting nature of these messages make the cry for body positivity/confidence feel artificial. 

I’ve always been concerned about the size and shape of my body. As a kid, I was always aware that I was bigger than most of my friends, who were small and quiet and cute. I, in comparison, was big and boisterous, and often felt like Princess Fiona when she first hugs her parents in her ogre form. Despite this awareness, I still wasn't bothered much. I was pretty confident and happy as a kid. I was smart and sociable, and the shape and size of my body didn't define me.

In middle school, that started to change. I started to binge eat to combat feelings of loneliness or inadequacy. I didn’t have words to describe what I was feeling but I knew that if I felt horrible, scarfing down a container of cookies and cream ice cream and a pack of powdered donuts was a momentary remedy. I gained a lot of weight, which made me more insecure, especially when people in my life would bring attention to it--my doctor, my family, my best friend. I continued to feel lonely, angry, and insecure. I continued to binge.

When my family moved to Trinidad when I was in the seventh grade, I lost a lot of weight. The unwanted move, the sudden change of circumstance, combined with intensified feelings of sadness, led me to stop eating. Matched with the magic of puberty, all my fat disappeared and i became “shapely”. People began to comment on how much weight I had lost and how good I looked. But I still didn't feel good. Until that moment, I had always associated slimness with happiness and confidence, so it was a bit of wakeup call to realize that my now loose clothes didn’t make me feel any better about myself. Now I worried about keeping off the weight, hungry for compliments so as to validate myself.

Why did it matter if I was fat or skinny, chubby or toned? Why was I, at 12 years old, already evaluating my worth based on the size of my thighs and the roundness of my face? In all the time I’ve been alive, society has always promoted thinness. It has humiliated and shamed people for not fitting certain body standards. Even in our age of body positivity and confidence, this narrative still persists. And while in recent years, there has been a greater acceptance of women with larger bodies, there’s still a lot of work to do before there is an actual change in the way we see and talk about bodies. It feels like there's little room in the body positivity conversation to talk about the complexities of “loving your body”. I wish we talked more about how not loving your body doesn't mean not loving yourself.

I do not love my body. Every time I look in the mirror and tell myself that I love my thighs or that I love my belly, I feel ridiculous. But I also don’t hate my body. There are some days where I wish it was smaller and more toned. Those moments pass.

A body is just a physical vessel. We exist in them, but they do not define us. My body doesn’t say anything about who I am, except maybe that I really like donuts (like REALLY LIKE). My body doesn’t determine my worth, and I don’t need to love it. I think that's okay. 

The Importance of Representation

Artwork by Angela Pilgrim (via  blackcontemporaryart )

Artwork by Angela Pilgrim (via blackcontemporaryart)

I fell in love with fashion at the age of twelve. Before then, my main interest had been books and I took all my style cues from the popular soccer kids that I was so desperate to be best friends with. Discovering fashion wasn’t just about discovering a whole new world, but discovering a whole new part of myself. Day upon day I perused my sister’s fashion magazines, endlessly talked about trends with my best friend, and tried in whatever way possible to emulate the people I now looked up to. My love affair with fashion is what helped me survive the brutalities of early pubescence and crafted me into the person I am today.

When I fell in love with fashion, I knew of four black models. Naomi Campbell, Chanel Iman, Jourdan Dunn and Joan Smalls. I didn’t know of any black fashion writers, designers or magazine editors. At the time, the lack of representation in the industry wasn’t something on my radar. I was just happy to see one or two black models in the latest issue of Teen Vogue.

These days, my relationship with representation is very different. I think there were two things that really changed the game for me. One was realizing that in the mass of influencers that I followed and admired, very few of them were black women. I knew that there were more black bloggers, but I wasn’t seeing them on must-follow lists.  I’m going to be honest, I’m not exactly one for trolling through my Instagram ‘Explore’ page, so I depend on magazines, blogs and other Instagram accounts to discover new people. Unfortunately, a lot of my sources were dominated by whiteness. After realizing that there was a severe lack of black women on my feed, I made it my mission to rectify the situation. And it wasn’t a challenge at all. When I started looking in the right places, the options for inspiration were endless.

The second thing that happened was that I read Audre Lorde’s Zami: A New Spelling of My Name. It doesn’t need to be said but reading any Audre Lorde is life-changing, and reading Zami was like an epiphany. Up until that point, I had never read a book in which I felt seen. It wasn’t just about relating to Audre--I felt a deep connection with her and her words. I saw parts of myself in her and I felt that those parts were understood. I’d never experienced that feeling before.

The combination of reading the book and following more black women on the Internet made me feel like I was a part of a community. I hadn’t realized how displaced I felt within the whole fashion/influencer community, until I found a place where I felt like I belonged.

Last week, blogger Valerie Eguavoen of On A Curve, called out fashion brand Revolve for the lack of women of color, specifically black women, in their influencer groups. In calling out the brand, Valerie shed light on a conversation that black women have been having for years. Across industries, black women are undervalued, especially in the fashion industry which likes appropriating black culture but isn’t as open to actually supporting black women. And although diversity in fashion has been championed in recent years, the attempts have felt weak. Valerie’s callout of Revolve demonstrated that. Responses to her claims clearly showed how little people value black women, with many responding that maybe the reason that there weren’t any black bloggers that were popular enough to get influencer status. That idea is completely ridiculous and further undermines the work that black women do to gain even half of the amount of success that their white counterparts experience.

Seeing black women working in fashion, whether it’s as writers, influencers, photographers, etc. is inspirational. It’s an affirmation of where hard work can take you. It’s also an encouragement--if I was being completely honest, there are many times I’ve questioned if I would be able to have a career in the fashion industry because of the prevalence (and preference) of whiteness. But when I see writers and editors like Marjon Carlos or Chioma Nnadi, or bloggers like Yaminah Mayo, I see women who pushed past those ideas to get what they wanted. Women who have used the spaces they inhabit to fuel discussions around blackness.

For me, seeing black women working in fashion--successfully, visibly--makes me feel like my dreams and goals are possible. Black women have shaped culture for centuries and their stories are rich and valuable. They've done so well in crafting out spaces for themselves, but it's time for them to be given space on the mainstage. It's time for their voices to be magnified. 

If you looking for more black influencers and bloggers, Valerie started an Instagram page, @youbelongnow that spotlights black influencers and bloggers from all areas of the ‘net. I’ve followed quite a few people already!

Feelings on 'Master of None'


In recent years we have been seeing TV shows that challenge the norm, that are concerned with presenting real life and creating a connection with viewers. From Lena Dunham’s Girls to Big Little Lies, TV is smarter, more nuanced and can stand on its own against film. Despite this, it still feels novel for a show to tackle it all and get it right. As much as I love Girls, I feel like only the bottleneck episodes are both well written and aesthetically strong--and those are few and far between. That’s why I love Master of None so much.

When I first watched Master of None, it was kind of a fluke. The show had just come out and I needed something to keep me company while I spent three hours taking out my braids (black girls know!). I sort of knew about Aziz Ansari—that Parks and Rec treat yo’self GIF is everything—but there was nothing that drew me to the show. In the time it took me to remove all my braids, I had gotten through 75% of the show and fallen in love. Master of None was smart, creative and beautifully crafted. I liked how the show took on real issues, like facing sexual harassment as a woman or getting to know your parents as people or being an actor of color in Hollywood. It was both serious and gut busting funny.

When season two was announced, I was so excited I marked the release date in my calendar. And while I expected the second season to be good, I was also worried that I’d hyped it up too much and I’d be disappointed. Yet, I needed not to have had a single worry because the second season wasn’t just great, it was PHENOMENAL.

Visually, the show took it a new level. I feel like there are so many films described as being a love letter to New York, especially for their ability to make the city look so romantic. The show did that and more. I especially enjoyed the episodes directed by Ansari because you could tell that he put a lot of thought into color and light. The best example of this was the episode “Amarsi Un Po,” which at 57 minutes is the longest episode of the series, and is like a mini movie that made me want to go to New York and fall in love, whether it was with Duane Reade or a modern art museum.  

The second season continued to take on serious, hard hitting issues that are relevant in our turbulent times. An episode titled “Thanksgiving” (written by Ansari and Lena Waithe) followed Denise (played by Waithe) and Dev through many Thanksgivings and Denise’s coming out, perfectly documenting the difficult and sometimes awkward conversation, especially when you’re a black woman. It approached the topic with seriousness and humor. In another episode, Dev’s love interest jokingly calls him a curry person but he’s quick to shut it down, not interested in entertaining casual racism. Despite these (kind of) heavy topics, Master of None never feels preachy or pushy. It’s clear that Ansari and Yang are concerned with taking on important issues and approaching them in an honest, creative way.

It’s been a long time since I’ve been so excited and inspired and affected by a show. Watching Master of None this past weekend was the perfect reminder of the power of television. 

Written in May 2017

Sustainable Fashion Isn't Just Another Trend

Stella McCartney Resort 2013 via  popsugar

Stella McCartney Resort 2013 via popsugar

 

A few years ago, sustainable fashion seemed about as attainable as a Birken bag was for Samantha Jones and about as attractive as a pair of Crocs. Fast fashion was having its moment and H&M's designer collaborations (Alexander Wang, Isabel Marant) were a lot more appealing and wallet friendly than any eco-fashion styles pushed by Emma Watson or Stella McCartney. In recent times the buzz surrounding sustainable fashion has expanded beyond an exclusive group and is making its way into the conversation about the future of fashion. Just last month, fashion alum like Susie Lau (of Style Bubble) and Amber Valletta travelled to Copenhagen to participate in the Copenhagen Fashion Summit that discussed the state of the current industry and what the future of fashion could look like using a sustainable model. In recent months, the conversation surrounding ethical and sustainable fashion has seen a spike in popularity. Magazines like Vogue are starting to take notice and brands like Brother Vellies and Reformation are beginning to get more attention. The most exciting part is that much of this recent spike has been spearheaded by groups of young people who are dedicated to changing our planet, both socially and physically, for the better.

Despite the successes and ambitions of millennials, teenagers and young people are still radically underestimated. We’re thought to be superficial and lacking. Whenever a teen is well spoken and articulate, there is a slew of comments that express surprise. Yet it’s my peers who are at the forefront of trying to change our world for the better—especially when it comes to protecting and restoring our environment. 

Up until a few months ago sustainable fashion felt inaccessible to me. I would read articles about how smarter shopping was beneficial for our planet, but I didn’t think there was a way that I could achieve that. Sure, I could buy less pieces from Forever21 and Zara that I would get rid of in two months and instead invest in pieces that lasted longer. I could thrift more and donate old clothes to the sea of thrift stores in my city. But I still felt lost. I wanted to be trendy and well dressed, which seemed impossible if I was also trying to be more ethical in my choices. Stories Behind Things couldn’t have come at a better time. The Instagram account (and soon to be blog!) was created by Ella Grace Denton and Jemma Finch, and orginally focused on spotlighting the uniqueness and creativity of secondhand clothing, and generate a conversation about it. What started out as sharing great stories about someone’s grandmother’s necklace and stylish trousers has now evolved into a platform that encourages conversation about smarter, eco-friendly shopping. While they focus on the greatness of secondhand clothing, they also share brands that have committed to sustainable and ethical production.

In March of this year, the team paired up with the website What’s Your Legacy on a Big Clothing Switch that saw hundreds of people streaming into a warehouse in London and engaging in an event that was not only fun, but also beneficial to our planet’s future health. What’s Your Legacy is a media platform started by Madara Freimane and Ance Rusova and is committed to helping their audience discover brands that are focused on ethical production, as well as changing consumer perspectives about what sustainable fashion looked like. From videos interviewing the owners of ethical brands to beautiful editorials, the team at WYL is making the sustainable fashion conversation a lot of fun.  While the surge in the sustainable and ethical fashion conversation may seem like just another spike in an old trend, it feels like there is a true chance that this is it. This is the beginning of a better and cleaner fashion industry. It’s exciting to see a large group of young people who are looking to influence and change the future of fashion into something that’s great for the planet as well.

Written in June 2017