Ghetto Booty Does Not a Real Woman Make

The other day I was fixing breakfast when I heard the ladies on The View mention that Christina Hendricks, the gorgeous and sexy “Joan Holloway” of AMC’s Mad Men would be a guest later on in the show (this is my way of saying that I was not (goodness no!) watching The View, but rather that somebody else had turned it on and I happened to be subjected to it because I was going about my business within earshot. Juuuuust so we keep that clear…).

I love Mad Men, and I love Christina Hendricks’s character, so I decided to stick around to see the interview. And while I waited I wondered if there was a snowball’s chance in hell the ladies would *not* bring up Hendricks’s voluptuous curves and how she is ostensibly breaking new ground in the debate on which of the following body types we (collectively, as a society) approve of and for which we (as women) should strive: stick thin vs. curvaceous.

The curvy among us, simple-minded as it is, are very readily tempted to make Hendricks our spokeswoman and the captain of our team.  We want to drop pamphlets from airplanes describing surveys, the results of which prove that male watchers of Mad Men find her to be by far the sexiest character on the show and look, look! Doesn’t that count for something?!  We want her to pay visits to all the daytime and the late night talk shows, where male audience members will whistle and drool, and every last host from Rachel Ray to Larry King will congratulate her on bringing the hourglass figure back en vogue.

Yes, it is tempting to want to exploit Hendricks based purely on her body, in the way to which we feminists claim to be so vehemently opposed.

So of course, one of The View’s hosts chimed in with a comment on Hendricks’s body.  She said something about how refreshing it is to see a woman with a real woman’s body, juicy curves and all, instead of the super skinny women we’ve all come to expect.  And Hendricks smiled politely and accepted the compliment and I’m sure there was more to it, but I didn’t catch the rest.

Here’s the thought I sat there wrestling with:  Since when is a woman with a super skinny body not a real woman?  Now believe me, I am not claiming to have no idea what the host was trying to say, like I’m somehow holier than thou and have not had the thought myself.  It’s just that I realize it comes from flawed thinking about the whole thing and what it truly is to be a feminist.

Of course, of course, I want women to be healthy.   If a woman is thin or even VERY thin, I would hope that it is a result of healthy eating and exercise and that the woman is happy with her body and didn’t reach where she was, bodily, because of pressure from society, stress about keeping her job, her partner, her youth, etc.  But this is my hope for ALL women, no matter what their body type.  Why is it that buxom women automatically consider themselves healthier than stick women?  What are their own diets like?  And do they exercise on a regular basis the way so many thin women do to stay in shape?

And I can never accept the stick-as-not-real-woman when I think about two of my good good, thin thin friends, one of whom is about as tiny as they come and who has borne two children from her supposedly non-real-woman’s body.  Furthermore, both her girls grew big and strong feeding (exclusively the first 6 months) on milk that came from my friend’s A cup breasts.  At a glance, people may consider her the poster child of the waif movement, but this is just her natural body.  She eats plenty, and what she eats ranges from veggies to McDonald’s to eel to tacos with refried beans to pie with ice cream…the entire gamut of edible things on this planet.  Who the hell is anyone to tell her she is not a real woman?!

What I’m tired of, more than the world’s worth of size zero models, or men who expect their women to be thin regardless of their own body type, are women (especially those who claim to be feminists) talking about what a “real woman’s” body looks like.  Again, as it is again and again, this is a case of women being their own worst enemies.

A good decade or so ago there was a mutiny among Ani Difranco’s normally devoted fans.  What was the crime she committed to fall out of their good favor?  She wore lipstick for a magazine photo shoot.  (Whore!)  I think it may have even been red.  My friend explained to me that this was something of a betrayal on Difranco’s part because she is supposed to be a feminist and should be above trying to change her appearance for the appeasement of others, especially men.

What women of this mindset failed to consider was the thought that maybe, just maybe, Difranco wore lipstick because she herself liked the way it looked.  And what’s more, even if she DID wear it to make one or even many men happy…this too would be her prerogative as a woman and as a person.  When was the last time you heard women criticizing a man for wearing cologne or shaving his beard just to appease a woman (asshole!)?  It doesn’t happen.  And it shouldn’t.  To me, having a woman telling me that I shouldn’t wear makeup is absolutely as oppressive as a man telling me I have to.  And if it’s done in the name of feminism, I would even say it’s worse.

I think of this thing with Hendricks and her bodacious curves the same way.  Okay, curvy ladies out there, if you want to celebrate a person based on her body, go right ahead, I guess.  But then what ground do you have to stand on when others are out there doing the same thing about a body you don’t find to your liking (because it is “too thin” or because the woman has fake breasts, etc.)?  The answer is that you don’t have any ground to stand on.  The best gift a feminist can give to her fellow sisters is to either celebrate women’s bodies no matter what they look like or how they came to look that way (whether by having accepted whatever body they come into without diet or exercise, or by working to make it what they wanted it to be), or to just back the hell off and not comment on it at all.

I’m pretty sure Christina Hendricks would rather be known and remembered for being a talented actor on a critically acclaimed show than for being the biggest-bootied woman they ever let play a sex symbol on T.V.  To comment on a woman’s body, no matter what the nature of the comment and how positive it is meant to be, is still to focus on the wrong thing.  And I look forward to the day when the largeness—or smallness—of a talented actor’s curves is no longer even an issue up for discussion.


Your Tiny Creatures are Making Fools of You

The other day I was driving to work when a little puff of a Chow dog bounded across the street in front of my car.  I slowed to watch him head toward a house, in front of which stood a chubby man in a dirty old t-shirt and boxer shorts, bending down and shouting something to the dog with a panicked and consternated look on his face.  I was cracking up at this sight, realizing the man was too beside himself with worry over the dog’s return to care about going outside in his underwear, to be seen by me and any other neighbors up at that hour.

I had this thought: Nobody ever looks as ridiculous as they do when trying to recapture escaped pets.  Especially small pets.  Especially big men trying to recapture small pets.

There is a video from when I was in high school wherein my Dad is seen across the street from our house in Phoenix, in the middle of the neighbor’s rock front yard, trying to nab our tiny little Shih Tzu dog, Scootchie.  She is fast and reluctant—a mere puppy full of energy and curiosity.  And she gives him quite a run around the neighborhood in the 100+ heat of Phoenix.  When he finally has her in his arms, the sight is hilarious, because he’s this 6’4,” 220-pound man with a 6-pound dog in his arms and an angry look on his face as he’s headed back.  It’s almost a wonder that such a tiny creature could get to him like that.

And it wasn’t so much about the Scootchie’s (insert any dog’s name here) bad behavior in experimenting with freedom.  It was the feeling that this dog had made him look like a FOOL!  Because there is a sense of panic that grows increasing strong the longer the pet is out of one’s possession, the farther away from the house an owner gets during the quest to reclaim it, and the more witnesses there are to this mini-drama.  The panic turns to relief once the animal is safe in one’s arms.

Yesterday one of my coworkers called to say he wouldn’t be in that day because he was pet sitting his parents’ cat while they were on vacation and the cat got out.  He’d be spending the day looking for it.  Everybody at work called bullshit, but I (while admitting the timing was choice—his last day at work before a 2-week vacation) declared the scenario entirely plausible.   This has happened to me twice!

The first time I accidentally let Fattie, my roommate’s unfriendly, gluttonous, peeing-in-my-room-all-the-time Siamese escape while the roommate was out of town (whoops?).  I was worried when I realized she was gone, but not enough to stay home from the first day of my second to last semester of college classes.  I came home from school that afternoon to find her sitting like a superior little Sphinx on the roof of the house, just daring me to come up after her.  I left that to our neighbor, a mutual friend of my roommate and me, who was much better in the feline department than I am.

A number of months ago, my parents left town for a few days.  They asked if I would come over and take care of Juju, their tiny Yorkie.  This would be an exceptionally easy task to complete in exchange for spending a few days in my parents’ roomy home, where the fridge and snack cupboards are always stocked and there was carpet for my little baby to roll around on.  Deal.

I was sitting outside on the back deck one morning, drinking coffee and enjoying the view with the baby on my lap and Juju frolicking on the grass nearby.  Well, that was the case anyway until suddenly it occurred to me that I hadn’t heard a peep out of Juju for some time and she wasn’t, in fact, anywhere nearby.  Whoops for real this time.  On investigation I noticed that the side gate did not reach all the way to the cement of the pathway on the side of the house, and Juju had taken advantage of this design flaw in a moment of spontaneous and wild abandon.

I wasn’t sure how long she’d been gone, but it could not have been longer than 5 minutes.  Still, 5 minutes for a dog who’s experiencing her first taste of freedom is likely to be more than enough to cause the launch of a long and highly unpleasant search.  I headed out first on foot, going about 5 houses down the hill, peering into the neighbors’ yards for a glimpse of the tiny puff of brown fur that is Juju.  No luck.  I then got into the car, driving oh so slowly down the hill a good mile, then oh so slowly back up, straining my neck in both directions as I went.  She could be anywhere by now!  And all the yards had so much vegetation I had no idea how I’d be able to spot her.  What if the neighbors’ own side fences were similarly shy on length and Juju was currently lounging it up in someone else’s backyard?  How much of my time and energy was I about to devote to this tiny creature?

I was imagining wolves, or just bigger dogs tearing Juju’s tiny body to shreds for the hawks who circle above the canyon behind my parents’ house to finish off.  I was imagining spending the day at Kinko’s making one of those pathetic flyers you see taped to telephone poles, screaming desperate separation anxiety and promising rewards.  And I was imagining the inevitable conversation I’d have to have with the folks, wherein I’d tell them that everything had gone well during my dog-sitting stint, except (oh!) the dog-sitting part.

And that’s when Juju appeared, trotting quickly down the sidewalk with an air of actual purpose, as if someone or something, somewhere, was expecting her arrival.   Panic turned to annoyance as I wondered how much of a run for my money Juju was likely to give me.  Thankfully, she is far, far more complacent (or is it lazy?) than Scootchie ever was, and what I feared would be a wild goose chase past the picture windows the length of my parents’ quiet, suburban avenue turned out to be a swift, dignity-sparing scoop-up.

I’m sorry the man I saw the other morning was not similarly spared by his fast-moving Chow puff, but then again if he had been I wouldn’t have experienced the joy of laughing at another’s expense as a powerful antidote to the thought of impending work and being away from my son for the day.

I realize fully, however, that as the mother of a quick-reflexed boy about 1 month shy of walking, my days of dignity-sparing chases involving tiny creatures are likely numbered.  In the course of the past year, I’ve watched with an anthropologist’s curiosity as my two best friends transitioned from normal, calm women who make eye contact during conversations as their babies sit mellow on their laps, to shifty eyed wardens, never quite able to relax and always seated precariously on the edges of seats, ready to finger-sweep small change out of a mouth or dive in front of stove burner-bound toddlers with one split second’s notice.  Just yesterday my friend Kelsi’s husband Jeff sat down on a chair across from me only to bound up a moment later with the words “oh my god, lookatim’ go” as he dashed out the door after his 20-month-old son, already two doors down the street and movin’.

My relief comes in knowing that anybody with kids has been there and knows the perils of the toddler chase, and anybody without kids is ignoring me anyway (because, Moms out there, doesn’t motherhood sort of feel that way?  Invisible to the outside world and strangely okay with that for the time being?).  I am trying to relax and enjoy the final days of the only semi-mobile child, but it’s tough, knowing what awaits.  I can say, though, that whatever avenues and side yards the boy leads me down, they are sure to be at times messy and overgrown, at times all new and fascinating, and will, at times, make a fool of me, of both of us perhaps.  But how much fun, that we’ll be traveling those roads together.  


On Mama

I’ve written a good bit about my dad.  Specifically, I blogged about him a couple of times, and when I was in 3rd grade I chose to make the pop-up book we created in class about him and how hard working he was (sidenote: I always think this is funny in looking back on it, given that the rest of the stories were about dragons and whatnot (exactly what you’d expect!).  I think it speaks volumes about what I’ve always found to be the most interesting subject matter for writing: The True).  I’ve also written about the father of my best friend Kelsi, and about my own Mom’s father.  I have not, however, ever ventured to write about my Mom.  How could this be?

On the surface, it might seem that I did not admire her in the same ways or that I had some kind of troubled relationship with her.  Not true (although aren’t all mother/daughter relationships troubled on some level, just by definition?  This is the only relationship in which I feel it is okay for love to hurt, especially from the mom’s end.  It is impossible for a mom to love her child like most mothers do without feeling hurt for every single one of her daughter’s own hurts, struggles, failures and disappointments.)  I love my Mom very much and think she was the best mom I could have wished for.  The problem is, how does one write about something as monumental as MOM?  Where does one begin?

To begin at the beginning is impossible, since of course I don’t remember it.  But from what I know, I can say my Mama was amazing.  She got pregnant with me when my brother was only 5 months old.  Having a 9-month-old myself, I just can’t even imagine this.  I can’t imagine trying to pick him up with a big ole belly getting in the way.  Or smelling poopie diapers when nearly every strong smell, even the ones you used to like, makes you wanna gag. 

But even getting through the pregnancy part, I *really* can’t imagine what it was like to have a toddler and a newborn to take care of.  And it’s not like she sat around the house all day.  I know (because I’ve seen pictures) she used to take us out all the time (before noon, no less) and not only were we always both fully dressed (in clothes that were clean and went together), I always had some accessory in my hair (or, later, an actual hairstyle).  I’m sure these seem like pretty basic things to some people, but the Mamas of young ones out there will know why I’m marveling.  Furthermore, the house was always clean.  No, I mean CLEAN clean, beds made, dinner on the table when my dad got home from work.  See, THAT’s how stay-at-home Mom is done.

Some of my earliest memories of my Mom were of walking with her to drop off and pick up my brother Kris from Kindergarten.  The school was about two block away, and I remember walking by her side, pushing a dolly in a miniature stroller.  My thought then, as it is now, was that when I grew up, I wanted to be like her.  Back then, we used to say it simultaneously while pointing to each other: “When I grow up, I wanna be juuuust liiiike yoooooouuu.”  Then we’d giggle.

Now, (in case you didn’t catch it) the sentiment has changed slightly to reflect my adult perspective.  I don’t want to be just like her.  That would be ridiculous if even possible, first of all.  But what’s more, to wish to be just like her is to dishonor that the ways in which we differ represent some of what I appreciate most about her.  For example, I’ve come to realize that I am not really cut out for stay-at-home-Momness.  I could never be as thorough, tireless, organized, or tidy as her.  But I am grateful for the experience of having her home with me all throughout my childhood.  It was so reassuring to know she was right there, whenever I needed her.

And now that I myself am the mother of a young child, I appreciate her in this role all over again, with one slight change:  she is a stay-at-home Nana, taking the best possible care of my son that I could ever hope for.  If I hadn’t known he’d be in her strong and capable (and now 10-times-more-playful-on-account-of-the-grandparent-mojo-that-has-inevitably-seeped-into-her-bloodstream) hands, I would not have gone back to work at all.

Also, she is creative and truly visionary, in ways I know I’ll never be.  You could give her a rusty pork n beans can, a shoestring and a dried-up booger, and she’d think of some way to make it beautiful.  She’d tell you all about her plans for it beforehand.  And you’d just kind of smile and nod and then go about your business, forgetting all about it until you came over the next afternoon and there it would sit—right on the counter: something beautiful that came together just exactly as she’d said it would.  See, I can’t even think of something specific to say it would be, and you have no idea how long I’ve been sitting here trying as I write this.  Yet in the time it’s taken her to read this (because of course, supportive Mama that she is, she is reading this), I bet she’s already brainstormed at least three possibilities.

When I was pregnant, I started having all sorts of flashbacks about my childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood, and I would think specifically about all the times my Mom supported and looked out for me, and all the crazy opportunities I gave her to worry.  From traveling to a remote village in Chiapas with my gal pals in the midst of an insurgent uprising, to dropping out of school and—on more than one occasion—simply settling for less than I should have.  Yes!  I gave her plenty cause for concern.  And she always handled those mini-stroke-inducing actions on my part with her signature blend of caring, appropriately-expressed anger, grace, and been-there-done-that-don’t-make-my-same-mistakes wisdom.

Being a mom now, I can appreciate much more the kind of strength it takes to let go and watch your child try (often unsuccessfully) to navigate the landscape of her life.  (Was that a cliché just now?  It sounded like one.  But then most clichés earn their hackneyed status by being so damned true, they are simply destined to be repeated again and again.)

There was a time in high school when I was nursing a two-year-old crush on a boy who had, yes, given me the time of day but had no, not ever been close to “asking me out” (“out” meant “going steady” in the 90’s).  This crush’s birthday was coming up, and I wanted to do something special for him.  Something that would show I really put some effort into it.  I shared this with my Mom, and she took me to the grocery store to buy some pre-made cookie dough (okay, so not SO much effort) and helped me carefully package those slightly burnt, lopsided disks into a package that screamed I Like You!  No.  I LIKE You Like You!

How does a mother do this?  How does she watch her little girl—not just watch but encourage her little girl (no matter what her actual age) to take such a leap?  She knows that there is joy at stake (however temporary that may be in high school), and she knows there is also heartache at stake (however permanent that may feel in high school).  But she also knows she has to find that balance of protecting and championing, guide her daughter as best she can for as long as her daughter will listen, and then…just…let go.  God!

I take one thing back from what I just wrote.  A mother doesn’t have to do all those things or any of those things.  There are all types of mothers in this world.  But I am indescribably grateful that I have the kind of mom who did.  She was and will always be an inspiration to me, and I will often think, when the many many opportunities to wonder what on earth to do in response to the perils of motherhood arise: ‘what would my own Mama have done?’  And maybe I will call her and ask.  Or maybe I will just take that flying Mama leap on my own.  But if I do, at least I’ll have the comfort of knowing I had a great teacher.

And while all this sounds like a blog that was meant for Mother’s Day, what I really mean to say in all of this is Happy Birthday Mamala.  I love you now and for always.


You Look Familiar...

I’ve recently discovered the thing that is one thing worse than missing somebody you love.  It’s when the somebody you’re missing is yourself.  And freaky: not even realizing you miss yourself until something—some tiny little glimpse of your former self—peeks through.

For me, one such tiny little something was hearing myself laugh too hard to finish my sentence on a recent, mini road trip with my Mom, Aunt, and 9-month-old baby boy.  We were headed to Arizona—my old stomping grounds—to visit my cousin for her son’s first birthday.  I really can’t believe it to tell it…that me, a person who used to laugh that hard on a semi-daily basis, could not remember the last time it’d happened.

Laughing is just one thing.  It’s just one of many things I used to do often and, for reasons I don’t care to get into here, no longer do much of.  What the hell is that?  How can that happen to a person?  I know now how, and knowing how will help me prevent it from ever happening again.  Like that quote from Maya Angelou goes:  “I did then what I knew how to do.  Now that I know better, I do better.”

And on that note, I am picking up where I left off 3 ½ years ago and beginning to write again.  When I laid my last blog down to sleep back then, I wrote some bologna thing about quitting blogging for the sake of taking up more serious writing efforts.  That would be noble and interesting, if it were true.  But unfortunately it was not.  (Oh, and now—with that admission—I’ve just rendered the narrator unreliable for all future writings…hmmm.)

I really stopped writing my blog because it was easier than the task of remaining true to myself, for the time being.  I’m not trying to be nebulous here, but again I am reluctant to get into the details just yet.  The details are not important anyway (though that is the LAST time you’ll read that from me, especially if we’re talking about writing.  Of course, the details are EVERYthing where storytelling is concerned.  But this is less of a story and more of an introduction, and since few people ever read the introduction anyway, and even those who do figure the shorter the better (let’s get to the real meat!), the fewer details the better).

All by way of saying, welcome to Starts With One, my new blog.  The title was inspired by a video my mom came across when showing kids song videos to my son one day (see video above, right).  I fell in love with this little ditty because 1) the little birdie’s eyes remind me of my son, and 2) what a wonderful message!  “One thousand steps starts with one, you’ve gotta learn to walk before you run.”  That’s how I feel about my road back to reclaiming the person I used to know and used to like.  Writing is a big part of that person, so it’s the first thing I’ve decided to pick back up.

And I am way, way out of practice.  But here it goes: my first step of a thousand, of maybe more. 

Thank you for joining me on the outset of this journey.

P.S.  I saw this quote on my friend Nicole's blog, and it didn't just speak...it sang to me: "There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and will be lost."  ~Martha Graham