These little white lines

Dear Women:

Remember when we hated you because you were fat?  Boy did we ever dislike you then!  There aren’t too many worse things a woman can be!  Am I right, or am I right?  Oh, what’s that?  You’ve lost weight?  You joined a gym and started running and lifting weights and trying out new exercises and are the fittest you’ve ever been in your life?  Well good for you!  Too bad we still don’t like you.  I mean, even though you’re not fat anymore, you’re just less fat.  Don’t fool yourself into thinking you’re skinny enough.  Plus, you now have stretch marks and seriously, EW.  I mean, can’t you at least try to take care of yourself?  Good grief women.  Just get your head in gear okay?  You can start off by buying this bullshit product which will do nothing to actually minimize the look of those disgusting lines, but instead, further reinforce a feeling of perpetual failure.  Because goodness knows you have failed.  However, if by chance this product does work for you and reverses this natural process, and then maybe, just maybe, we’ll allow you to take pride in your body.  However, by “your body”, we don’t mean anything more than what you look like.  Lest you begin to think that you can feel good about yourself due to the amazing things you can accomplish with your body, just remember – you’ll never be good enough and you will never be more than the sum of your physical parts.

Sincerely,

The World

I work out at a small gym.  It’s a pretty simple organization – exposed pipes, leaky air conditioners, and minimal equipment.  For relatively low price, I use its facilities between three to four times a week with little complaint.  However, two copies of this ad have been hanging in the ladies change room for over the past four months.  I didn’t pay much attention to it at first, but as I passed by it day after day, it really began to grate my gears.

It drives me crazy that a place committed to promoting healthy choices would chose to hang this ad in the women’s washroom.  While I understand that because the gym is so limited, it probably requires the extra revenue from the ad space, but couldn’t they have chosen something that promoted body acceptance (especially within the medium of healthy living, or healthier living?) over HEY EX-FATTIES!  GET RID OF THOSE STRETCH MARKS BECAUSE THEY, LIKE YOU, ARE SO GROSS!

I am so sick of constantly being told how fat, ugly, pimpled, yellow-teethed, glasses-ed, wrinkled and cellulited I am.  Because ninety-nine percent of the time all this is nothing but water of my rubber ducky back.  I am okay with my “flaws” – but mostly because I am capable of standing back and taking pride in the things my body is capable of doing.  However, this used to never be the case, and as I said, the one percent of the time that this does bother me, it really hits me hard.

And the reason that this is sticking so deeply in my craw right now, is because it is at the gym – the place I go to feel fantastic about myself.  The place where I push my body to its limits and marvel at how strong, fast, agile, flexible – WHATEVER – I can become through commitment and hard work, and not the purchasing (under social pressure) of some crap cream.

I think I may go in tomorrow with a notepad and scotch tape and stick the following onto the glass:

Hey Ladies!  I hope you had a great workout today.  Take a moment to reflect on how much faster or longer you can run, how much more you can lift.  Take a moment to relish how good that feels and keep trying new things!

And then I’m going to watch this and feel bloody brilliant:

Please Sir – May I have an “other”?

Every year, around November, there is a Big Lebowski beer garden held at UBC. It’s great fun – people show up in costume, drink white Russians and watch the film at the school’s movie theatre, often shouting out dialogue along with the characters. At the beginning of my third year of undergrad, my husband (then boyfriend), a couple of friends and I decided we would go. The Big Lebowski is one of my favorite films and the chance to sit around in my bathrobe, with the people I love, watching a movie I know by heart, was too good an opportunity to pass up. What made it even more spectacular was the fact that one girl who came along with us had never seen the film and didn’t realize that my boyfriend was dressed up as Walter. She told me the next day, “yeah, I thought he was cute but had really weird taste in clothes.”

The night was a gas and we had a great time – right up until the end. As we were leaving the theatre, we noticed that there was a young man passed out on the floor. He had obviously drank way too much and was lying unconscious, with his top half in the middle of the aisle and his lower half hidden behind a row of seats. People were literally stepping over his head if their effort to exit the building. One girl, in her highly inebriated state, tripped and stepped on his arm.

Horrified by this collective lack of interest in this young man’s state of duress, my boyfriend rushed over to help clear him from the aisle and I ran out to the concession stand to get some water. I quickly relayed the information to the attendant that there was a man passed out inside and asked her for her help. She looked at me and scowled.

“Bottled water costs two dollars.”

Dumbstruck, I repeated that this water wasn’t in fact for me, but for the man-of-dubious-medical-condition lying in the auditorium.

“Could I please just have a glass of water?” I asked.

“I don’t have any cups,”was the response I received. As I didn’t have any cash on me, I ran back into the theatre and procured the money from one of my friends.

“They wouldn’t just give it to you?” He asked, incredulously. I just rolled my eyes in response.

Luckily, after getting some water into his system the fellow began to come around. I wanted to take him to urgent care, but one of his friends showed up (I guess one of them had finally realized that he hadn’t left with the group) and he promised that he would take good care of him from then on out. He thanked us for our help.

I gave him the water bottle, told him to make sure his friend took small sips and asked one more time if either of them wanted a ride to the hospital.

They declined.

I don’t understand how over one hundred people could leave a movie theatre and walk over the body of someone unconscious on the ground without so much as a second glance.

I don’t understand how you could slow down and swerve in order to avoid someone lying prone in the middle of the road.

I don’t understand how anyone could hit someone with a vehicle and flee the scene.

I cannot fathom how anyone could walk by a little girl, dying in a puddle of her own blood, and not, at the least, phone for medical help.

It is beyond understanding.

I do however understand that as as society we like binaries. Good-Evil. Young-Old. Black-White. Us-Them. We like to program our rules, our relationships, our identities through a process of “othering.”

We are, what others are not. And events like the one in Guangdong China feed into this system.

It works wonders for building self-esteem and ego. We can feel good about ourselves through the failings of our “other.” On a micro scale, this could be anything as banal as a sense of satisfaction when you find out that someone didn’t get the job they wanted, or they gained weight, or their girlfriend dumped them. On a macro scale, other factors of huge significance, come into play. Political, economic and ideological systems are the backbone to what is essentially a global version of “I know you are, but what am I?”

This system of “othering” also exists within the confines of our society. The political, economic and social stratification of individuals is imperative not only to global Geo-politics, but the functioning and continuing of domestically operated, social, political and economic institutions.

In simplest terms: it keeps the status quo.

It is only when we lose our sense of self, built out of this “othering”, that we as a society, or as individuals, must confront and question our failings. This is difficult because it is not often that a public event of such magnitude forces us to pause, reflect, asses or deconstruct enduring systems (social, political, economic, etc.) because we have created the myth that because we are not our “other”, we don’t need to.

I chose not to watch the video of this incident. But to those who did, I ask you these questions: Why? Did it make you feel better doing so? Did it reinforce how you felt about how you would act in that kind of scenario? And how did it affect, if at all, your view of the people involved, and the country they live in?

I am not saying we should move the microscope away from others, nor am I saying that the systems operating in Canada are equal to the systems operating in China.  Just the opposite in fact.  We must continue to draw attention to perceived and enduring injustice everywhere and question the validity of existing, long-held systems and institutions, so we don’t have to wait for an event of such tragic proportions to force us to do so.

We should all sit firmly under the looking glass, lest we start to drown in our own reflections.


Little women

“We’ll all grow up one day, Meg.  We might as well know what we want.” – Amy March

I am currently on vacation back east. My sister recently moved back to Halifax and is in the process of starting her first business: a catering – culinary school + general store (she will be a purveyor of all things local and organic in the Metro area). It’s really extraordinary to witness first had what running a company encompasses. While our house at the slowest of times is always powered by an interesting and eclectic electric current – somewhat calmed by its poesy and pastel painted walls – at present we are operating at full speed ahead. We are living in ye olde “house of small business 101” and the kitchen is fully stocked to the gills with gourds, grains and game. Hands down she is doing a remarkable job. Booking jobs, making connections, marketing, networking – she has it all under control, cool as a cuke.

And as the always awesome Aretha and Annie are ones to say:

Baby ran, she ran away

There is a scene in Forrest Gump, where the film’s protagonist is laying in a military hospital, somewhere in war-torn Vietnam, with his buttock taped up from a hostile incident with an enemy’s sniper rifle (“something just jumped up and bit me!”) next to the morose and suicidal Lieutenant Dan. Forrest has managed to procure two soft-serve ice cream cones, and in his eagerness to communicate his good fortune to said Lt., he yells out

LIEUTENANT DAN! ICE CREAM!”

Only, Tom Hanks’ pronunciation is such that it doesn’t come out sounding that way. Indeed, it sounds as if Forrest turns to his superior and exclaims:

LIEUTENANT DAN! ASS-CREAM!”

Which would make Lt. Dan’s reaction all the more understanding (he takes the cone and promptly drops it into his bed pan without the slightest acknowledgment to Gump, or his gift of soft serve).

So where, dear reader, is this all stemming from?

I, like Forrest, think a lot when I run. I am not afraid to admit that most of the information I mull over and dissect during this time is completely, one hundred percent, hands-down crazy. In fact, in some perverse way I almost revel in it. I tend to chalk most of this up to the long distances I cover – there is only so much coherent thought you sustain over a long period of time, especially when you are pushing your body to its physical limits. Once you pass a certain mile marker all bets are off and I really think it’s anyone’s guess as to where my thoughts will meander next.

Etymology is a recurrent running interest of mine – certain words, or elongated descriptors will stick in my craw and I’ll mull over them for a length of time, usually until the steep hill on 10th street or the one at the north-west corner of the Park, when every cogent thought (or semi-cogent, WHATEVER) is thoroughly blasted from my mind, and all I can think about is THIS IS THE STUPIDEST THING I HAVE EVER DONE WHY WOULD ANYONE WANT TO RUN UP THIS HILL ALL THE DRIVERS IN ALL THESE CARS ARE LAUGHING AT ME.

This past Saturday I was out – completing a three loop pass of Queen’s park – roughly 10 km (at least according to map my run) and I overheard one young man say to another “you just got your ass creamed!” I didn’t pay too much attention to his choice of phrasing until a little further into the run, when I got to thinking about the origin of his term “cream your ass” – re: to beat, humiliate, destroy, etc. etc. Actually, what really ran through my mind was: holy shitballs! Where DOES this come from? What a horrible thing to say to someone! And how did it become part of the common vernacular OF OUR YOUTH? And what about holy shitballs? What’s up with that?

For the time being I want leave shitballs by the wayside – it’s not that I think this word, especially its consecrated version, doesn’t merit further discussion, (it most certainly does ) I can’t help but be drawn to the first phrase, as I am both disgusted and confused at how this description managed to worm its way into society, and truthfully my own vocabulary for an extended period of time, especially when I was of the age of the young, park dwelling men. How does this become a part of someone’s everyday language at such an early age without anyone (particularly over the age of, oh, I don’t know, TWELVE) calling us out on it?

FULL DISCLOSURE: I used to use this term quite a bit in elementary school. Hell, most of my friends did too. Knocked out during the first round of bump? Lady, you just got your ass creamed. Tagged out before kicking the can? I just creamed your ass, son! On, and on we would go…using this turn of phrase pretty much interchangeably with “butt kicked” or “whooped hide” or whatever the cool kids were using at the time.

So where is this from and why? It is easy to surmise that this has some deep patriarchal, homophobic roots. It is an obvious reference to sexual assault, the power to control, demean or overpower someone through a sexual act, while at the same time demeaning those who chose to engage in this act.

It is about asserting power over an individual. It is about stripping an individual of his or her power.

It is always a big wake-up call when you are confronted with how just how pervasive these destructive and outdated norms are, especially in a linguistic sense. While I doubt that the young men I overheard that day in the park use in them as a means to perpetuate homophobia or gender imbalance, I feel that either way it doesn’t matter. The fact that we use them without understanding their history or connotation just goes to show how we as a society have internalized and passively accept these values. They are both deep rooted and benign which makes them that much harder to weed out, especially if people can hide behind the excuse of “well, I never even thought of it that way – it’s just an expression.”

While we are making huge strides towards equality in many areas of society, at least on a macro level, I worry about how little we call attention to injustices on a micro level. Because just like an iceberg, whose visible portion might look surmountable, it is what lurks below the depths that is the most unpredictable and rarely studied, and therefore, most dangerous.

If we, as a society, truly want to see change, make change, be changed it is time that we become aware of the power of language. If one more person tells me that I need lighten up, I just might burst into flames. Because it is not about having a sense of humour, it is about having the sense of what it means to be human, and how your words may impact not just those you are speaking with, but how they may reinforce normative values that you may actually disagree with or actively fight against.

It’s like the person who calls someone out for using the term “gay” and then in the next sentence calls themselves a “retard.”

So this is what I think about while I run. And sometimes, just like Forrest Gump himself, I just want to keep running, keep going, so I don’t have to think about the ways of the world, and ways they can be changed, nay need changing.

And if anyone asks me why I left it all behind? I’d tell them:

I just felt like running.”

Ride it out

Dear Person Who Refuses to Sit Next to the Window on Transit:

Good thinking chum. It’s widely known that those who sit next to the window are never given the opportunity to exit the train.  I once found myself stuck in the window seat and ended up riding the line for five weeks straight!  By the end I was fashioning outfits out of day old Metro newspapers, subsisting off of Starbucks dregs and those four or five french fries that always end up in the bottom of fast food bags.  Lucky for me, I managed to drug one of the travellers sitting next to me (I slipped a crushed up packet of fisherman friends into his latte) and before the guardians of all things translink could catch me, I was out of there.

However, I cannot slag off the non-window sitters too much as this (has to be pathological) need is nowhere as bad as the people who smell as though they’ve spent the last month and a half living in the confines of Pete Doherty’s armpit.

Personally, my big transit rule is I never sit in any of the reserved seating, because if I do I always feel like a giant, fraud of an arsehole and am hyper aware of everyone getting on whom is actually deserving of the space.  (Random aside: the first two suggestions for what I’m actually trying to write instead of arsehole are: areole and hawsehole.  Wondering about the definition of hawsehole?  I was too.  It’s a nautical term for a small hole in the hull of a ship through which hawsers may be passed.  TRUTH.)

Also, whoever is behind the remake of The Thing should be sent to Baffin Island for twenty years hard labour.  SACRILEDGE!