Theses, writing, weight-loss, and sweet metaphors

Today in class, my new American Studies thesis students were challenged to answer this question, how will doing a thesis change me as a person and affect my life?

They came up with a  lot of good answers. They talked about confidence, work ethic, intellectual achievement, playing to their strengths, and managing their time. When it came to me to tell them what I believe the answer is, I told them something like this:

The thesis is a learning experience on a large scale. It’s yours, you own it entirely. You are the captain of your own ship, and as a result your successes will be yours and so will your failures. The way the thesis will change you is that when you are presented with a seemingly insurmountable task, whether it’s related to career, personal life, family life, romance, projects, or journeys, you will be able to look at it as a whole and know that you are capable of doing the work to get where you need to be. You won’t doubt yourself. When you’re presented with something that, at the outset, seems near impossible, you will push forward. You will know to break it into manageable pieces, work on it everyday, slowly and steadily. Even when you’re tired, and fed up, you will always see the forest beyond the trees and you will always trust that you will get there. The thesis will teach you that you have every bit of will, and grit, and motivation you need to do whatever you set out to do.

Large scale research and writing is very difficult. There’s a reason why not a lot of students sign up for majors that require work of this nature when they’re undergraduates, and there’s a reason why the students who do are exceptional. There’s a reason why when they write this thesis, which is, for many, their first major research and writing project, that they work closely with TAs, professors, advisors, and each other. Part of what makes this a valuable experience is knowing that they can fall, they usually don’t. But if they get lost, or need a hand – one will be there. We joke about this – “help will always be given in thesis class to those who ask for it.”

I did my first large scale (or it looked large at the time) writing project in IB2 (12th grade). It was called an Extended Essay and it’s basically a miniature version of an undergraduate thesis. I then wrote an undergraduate thesis, and capped it off with a master’s thesis. While I was doing that I started helping other people write. I love helping other people write.

Research driven academic writing might seem dry and sad to a lot of people, but I believe it provides one of the most poignant, useful metaphors for getting through life I have ever encountered, which brings me to my point.

As of today I have lost 80lbs. When I started losing weight the idea that I would ever get to 80lbs down seemed impossible. Even from my current vantage point, there is still so far to go. Starting a weight loss project where I decided to set about losing 200lbs (half my starting weight) was scary, it was scary because I didn’t know if I could do it. I didn’t know if I had the physical capacity or, perhaps more importantly, the emotional and psychological wherewithal. I knew all the data about dieting and about massive weight loss, that it often doesn’t work, and many dieters don’t make it past 10%, many people never reach their goal, and many people end up gaining to weigh more than they did at the beginning. Losing weight is socially, emotionally, and culturally stressful. At the outset, in the first 20lbs (which came off quick, but were invisible) I interrogated my choices a lot, I questioned whether my motivation was good enough, whether my choices were noble rather than being selfish or, perhaps, not even mine.

However, in the last 60lbs, I’ve learned so much about myself, and my motivations. I’ve learned that my motivations are complicated and are in a perpetual flux. I’ve learned that this is a project, it is a large, seemingly daunting project, and I’ve learned that in order to get where I want, and achieve what I set out for I have to be committed. While there are days were I don’t count calories so closely (or count them but don’t worry about them) every day is in service of the larger project. Not only the physical elements of weight loss (the eating, the working out) but the emotional and psychological parts. In order to get up everyday and want to keep doing this, I have to know that I am capable.

Losing large amounts of weight is so much like writing. It’s so much like writing that everyday gets easier because I realize more and more that this difficult thing is just like the difficult things I’ve done before. The difference between success and failure is patience, commitment, grit, and knowing that no matter what happens as you go, it is the process that is valuable. When you’ve finished a thesis, and smack it down with the familiar thump of a 100 pages, when you hold it for the first time as it finishes printing and it’s warm and smells like toner, it’s finished and and while it still needs to be graded, and (you hope) read – your relationship with it is finished. Everyday, every mile, every pound I lose feels like a page of a thesis. Meeting a micro-goal is like finding that book you really need, or writing a literature review that you don’t fucking hate.* Weight loss for me is a writing process, it’s a story about my body that I am wholly in control of, it requires my dedication and motivation, and requires that I not let other people derail my ideas, or hijack my work. This isn’t about other people’s ideas, this is my project and I’m writing it with my body. Every success is my success and while I undeniably have excellent people around me to support me, when it comes down to it, it’s mine. When my feet hurt so much I can barely walk, when I’m so bored of eating the same weird foods, and when all I want is just not think about it, I’m the person who has to. And I do because I’ve written, I’ve written long, complicated things, I’ve watched students follow wild trains of thought to magnificent conclusions, and because the body follows the brain.

Writing a thesis changes you in that you learn that if you need to write, if you want to write, you sit down and you write.
It affects your life because you learn that if you want to do something, you look at it as a whole, you think about what’s it’s really made of; the research, the skills, the time, the process, and you make a plan and you follow through with that plan.

*Unclear that this is even possible.

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Dirty Emotions.

It’s probably become apparent to anyone withe eyes who reads my blog that I am content to rant about Feminism all day.  Of course I don’t mean Feminism in a classic sense, but this Fourth Wave, Post-post-postmodern Feminism that oozes through the Internet like sludge of the illogical. However, today I’m not ranting about how sexist pop music isn’t really that big of a deal or about how much I value my restrictive, old-school foundation garments (and I do!) but rather something a little more personal.

Schadenfreude

Yes. Perhaps the most valuable loan word we’ve ever been loaned, and definitely one of the most wonderful concepts to ever be articulated by Germans. Schadenfreude refers to a gleeful feeling brought on by another person’s misery, failure, or bad luck. It doesn’t have to be someone you dislike, it could be anyone. Schadenfreude is the warm, bubbly feeling you get when, in your limited perception, you feel karma has made its rounds, when someone gets their comeuppance. It’s the “ha!”, the “I told you so”, and often just a quiet, personal experience of pleasure. The Internet is made for schadenfreude, everyone is so desperate include everyone else in their entire life narrative that we have Facebook et al. to assist in delivering schadenfreude worthy morsels to our dark sides daily.

Now, this may seem like a nasty, rotten emotion that we should repress with due diligence, but I’m pretty sure this can’t be done. Similar to the way some people (usually straight women) say stupid things like, “I don’t talk behind people’s backs” (bullshit, I call bullshit.) or “I don’t hang out with people who gossip,” schadenfreude is a very natural part of human interaction and in a private way can be very comforting. Oh look, another of my friends has been hired for a high-paying job they got through nepotism, but two hours later their cat puked on their bedspread. HA! Thanks for telling me, Facebook, I’m really enjoying wallowing in that cat vomit.  Regard, someone I vaguely know is getting married to someone else I vaguely know and they are so very happy but someone backed into their car in a parking lot. GLORIOUS.

Again, this may seem somewhat nefarious, but we live in world with a digital space accompanied it which is utterly designed for bragging. Oh, you ran 6.4 miles? Go you! You got married and it was fucking beautiful? Yippeee! You lost 34.9lbs? Sparklers! You’re going to Bermuda? Sweet! Your kid had an embarrassing tantrum in a public place? Yay. Schadenfreude is the emotional equivalent of liking someone’s break up status, and not in a supportive way. To be fair, we almost never feel it over terrible things, or if we do, we don’t express it.  In fact, schadenfreude is almost never expressed – making it even less nefarious.

 

 

“Blurred Lines” and why your anti-sexist rants are getting awfully sexist, ladies.

Every summer we get to indulge ourselves in dozens of new, sparkly pop songs. They dash up and down the charts, their videos and melodies pervade our radios, newsfeeds, and televisions all in the hope of being the big hit of the summer. The song we’ll all remember.

Perhaps the song that’s stirred up the most controversy this year (and by that measure beat the controversial competition, sorry Miley) is “Blurred Lines.” “Blurred Lines” is an oddly languid pop song with barely discernible lyrics by Robin Thicke, featuring T.I. and Pharrell Williams. However, upon some investigation and help from the video, it becomes apparent that it’s a song about a man speaking to a woman who has previously not been encouraged to express her sexuality or desire. The speaker urges the girl toward her desires, and generally encourages her to go with her instincts, which presumably will result in him getting laid. The song repeats references to these “blurred lines,” but it’s unclear what that is exactly referring to. Don’t get me wrong, this song is in no way feminist, it’s a pretty typical, fantasy-driven pop song.  There are certainly things to find irritating about it (who does this guy think he is? Why does he get to do the liberating?) but it’s not worthy of all-out feminist frenzy.

Today I had the good fortune of reading a “feminist take down” of the song and anyone who would dare enjoy it by Elizabeth Plank at Policymic.  While the article was logical, it was also predictably belligerent. Ms. Plank takes great offense to the assumption on the part of a male speaker that he might know what a woman wants, even if that assumption is liberating. Further, the video is offensive because the women (models) are partially clothed while the performers are fully clothed, also the women engage in overt, objectifying behaviors.

She heavily cites an interview with Robin Thicke where he (somewhat misguidedly) confirms that the video is degrading to women, and maintains it was “making fun” of something. Perhaps Robin Thicke doesn’t have the delicate hand to negotiate unspoken humor about the objectification women in 2013. She further cites comments make by the video director,  Diane Martel, a woman, who denied that there was an issue. Of course, as far as Ms. Plank and the feminist take down is concerned this woman’s opinion is irrelevant, despite actually producing the material. Diane Martel is, after all, only a woman working in music industry, can’t imagine what she would know about sexism!  Finally, the article references comments made by one of models in the video, Emily Ratajkowski, who expresses her ideas that women’s bodies on screen can be empowering, that the video was playful, and that she thought it was confidence-inspiring. It’s a fine example of post-postmodern feminism illustrating that some women’s opinions are valuable, some clearly aren’t. In this case, the women who produced the object do not have valuable opinions about it.

The introduction of the model is particularly interesting. When she’s introduced into the article, this parenthetical comment appears: “Emily Ratajkowski (who I wouldn’t recommend looking at unless you’re ready for a dramatic drop in your own self-esteem.)” Wow. I think it’s really crucial, while discussing how visible women’s bodies are being leveraged in a sexist way in a pop video, to emphasize that people should not look at Ratajkowski because she’s so pretty she’ll destroy your selfconfidence. Don’t even look at beautiful girls. Their existance in your field of vision is sexist, and they’re going to make you feel more insecure. One comment that boils a woman down to her appearance alone is all it takes to devalue an entire position.

Effectively, what is emerging from a lot of criticism of the song and video in various places is a total inability to grasp satire. The video involves a stuffed dog corpse, T.I. brushing someone’s hair, Robin Thicke sexily eating an ice cream cone. It involves a lot of silly dancing and not a lot of sexy touching. No actual nudity, no simulated sex acts, no grinding, there’s alcohol – but no women consume it, no violence, even playful, toward the women, while Thicke gets slapped at one point. There are nun-chucks and string of sausages though, clearly a piece of cultural commentary to be taken very seriously. The lyrics voice a little more violence; some hair pulling, and rough sex. At one point T.I. says: “I’ll give you something big enough to tear your ass in two” which is a pretty brazen thing to say unless he’s referring to an enormous dildo, and yes, it’s questionable, but it’s not enough for this outrage.

In thinking about what the “blurred lines” refer to, the general consensus seems to be that dangerous area where men have a hard time extracting consent (awful), but could also refer to the “blurred lines” between the “domesticated”, “good girl” the woman in the song is expected to be, and the “animal” she could be in the speaker’s fantasy.

Good Girl Gina, I like where your head is at…

As I was making my usual rounds down my Facebook newsfeed today, I noticed that several of my friends had posted or linked to this article on Jezebel. It’s listed in the sub-section, “Sexism” and is titled: “Good Girl Gina Loves Anal, Cooking Pot Roasts, and Watching Her Man Play Video Games.” It’s about the feminine version of Good Guy Greg (in which a cheery looking fellow is praised for doing nice things) known as Good Girl Gina. The article addresses some dubious “research,” in which a redditor decided to gather the quickmeme reddit outpours of Good Girl Gina and examine just how terribly offensive they are, and then Jezebel used that to make some sweet, sweeping generalizations about men.

Now, I’m pretty much grossly offended by Jezebel daily (between the hyperbole, the defensive attitude, the inconsistency (“we’re so much better than everyone else, look at us fawn of consumerist celebrity culture”), and the fucking terrible writing…) so all I know is that this article means that it’s a day of the week ending in y. However, this one struck a chord.

A few issues:

1. Reddit? Really, reddit? I always like to make my social observations in a room full of bored teenage boys. That’s a really amazing space to gather social research with which to condemn men and their clearly articulated desires. Y’know, Jezebel, use reddit to determine what ‘men’ are like, and then get yourself over to CraigsList and see what ‘women’ are like…oh, no, wait. You wouldn’t do that because CraigsList makes all women out to be easy, vapid whores and we don’t make generalizations about what women are like.

2. Let’s break down this title, shall we?

“Good Girl Gina Loves Anal” – Why, o’ website so centered on female agency, is this bad? Why is anal sex a marker of a woman being “basically being a Real Doll, but alive”? What’s more interesting is the comment where Good Girl Gina’s desire for sex (and I assume this is unromantic sex) is mentioned first in the listings of offensiveness. As if to say that heterosexual women are allowed to desire  sex, perform non-reproductive sexual acts, and articulate their desires aggressively (I am unclear if Jezebel thinks this, everything seems to point to women desiring sex being fuck-puppets for sexist men.) but men are not allowed to find that attractive. Ok. It’s like the gals at Jezebel want to feel the agency of desire, they want their desire for sex to pushed against, they want men to want them to be wives and mothers – they want “slutty behavior” (like enjoying anal sex?) to be condemned in order to be angry about that.

“Good Girl Gina Loves Cooking Pot Roasts” – I don’t know why any man would be particularly invested in the pot roast, but I also don’t dig this idea that women who enjoy cooking are demonstrating their oppression. I feel like cooking is really even between the sexes at this moment in our culture. I understand that once upon a time women cooked in the home, and men cooked in the expensive restaurant, however, we now live in the Age of The Food Network (do not even get me started on how I feel about “food porn”) where men and women cook publicly and passionately. What’s interesting is that Good Girl Gina’s Man isn’t mentioned in her love of cooking pot roasts, it’s not “loves cooking men pot roasts.” But I guess the damage of the past is such that women desiring to perform tasks once confined to our gender in a sexist fashion cannot be undone. Pardon me, while I torch all this yarn…

“Good Girl Gina Loves Watching Her Man Play Video Games” – This is where it becomes readily apparent that Jezebel somehow selected these three terrible, sexist behaviors for Good Girl Gina to perform. Whether the cultural iconoclasts of reddit think women should enjoy watching men play video games or perhaps play with them or just be able to not be doing something together all the time is unclear. What is clear is that Jezebel thinks a woman who would love watching ‘her man’ (some possessive language here…) play video games is indicative of her failure as a feminist, I just don’t feel like I can buy that.

3. I’m going to come full circle here, and look at the “more than depressing” findings from reddit.  Some of these entries are concerned with things that just don’t make sense: for years feminists have rallied on about how terrible it is that men condemn women who desire sex, “slut shaming”. Good Girl Gina clearly is a bit of a slut, she’s having anal sex, oral sex, she’s doing it without being asked, she’s very sexually self-possessed. She’s the kind of woman who would usually be condemned as being ungirlfriendable, a whore, cheap – but she’s not, she’s incredibly desirable. And my favorite of these is “She Isn’t A Stereotype” – part of the problem with this is men articulating desire for women who violate their own previous sexist constructions about what women are like?

I understand that some of these are deplorable, but this is the Internet, not an even sample. Frankly, the condemnation of Good Girl Gina memes makes little sense.

Finally, the summation of all this is the tongue-in-cheek conclusion; “”So what can we glean from all this? If someone wants to be a Good Girl, then reddit already has it figured out. A Good Girl is an object to be lusted after. A Good Girl makes sure you’re sexually satisfied, either by her or someone else,” LaTex_fetish added. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go barf.” It’s all in the language, I’m clearly reading these results very differently:

It seems to me that Good Girl Gina is a “good girl” not because she’s “an object to be lusted after” but because she’s possessed of clear sexual desire and able to articulate it without feeling shameful. Not because she makes sure  “you’re sexually satisfied, either by her or someone else” but because sex is a two way street for her, and god forbid, she might want to engage in non-normative activities like group sex or anal sex.

Your negativity is a self-defeating mess, Jezebel.

 

 

 

 

Hostel and Feminism

I am currently watching the direct-to-DVD third installment in the “Hostel” franchise. I didn’t even know there was a “Hostel: Part III” and I think of this as a major failing on my part as I am serious advocate of the “Hostel” films (says the girl who spent hours and pages working on a creative-meets-analytical writing exercise on a scene from the first one.)

Now, I am more than certain that plenty of people have plenty of less than favorable things to say about these films. Eli Roth’s “Hostel” redefined horror and peaked on a completely new wave of the genre, made changes that horror will never recover from. And rightly so. Yes, it’s wildly violent, utterly grotesque, filthy, gritty and leaves you feeling sick to your stomach, and not because of the drilling, hacking and gouging but because of the clever, unsettling construction of the film and more so the grim reflection it casts on our own nature.

Many a critic would point to the dismal things this indicates not only about our selves but also the state of the horror industry. I naturally think they are wrong and that “Hostel” (and even it’s low-fi follow-up) is a neat, sharp, troubling bit of cinema and deserves praise, I would also like to point to a little oddity that really pulls this particular franchise from the abyss.

The classic and acknowledged world of horror is one of institutionalized racism, misogyny and searing patriarchy. In horror movies, non-white characters die first and in stupid ways, women who have sex are done for, men who are vain never last, and the invariable survivor is a doe-eyed ‘final girl’. A sweet, virginal thing, with good morals and a good heart – she is the epicenter of Western virtue, and we know only she can beat evil.

Not “Hostel”. Interestingly, the first and third films focus on the capture and torture of men rather than women. (Because “torture porn” is dominated by “Saw” it seems like an equal-opportunity subgenre, but in reality the majority of torture films which are not “Saw” are about watching beautiful women suffer.) I will note that the second “Hostel” film is about women being tortured, but I get the sense this is to pull in audience, and it’s the only thing beyond coming up with new and gruesome ways to use power tools, that changes it from the first film.

The conceit of “Hostel” is that young men seeking sex and deviant good times are captured and subjected to various forms of gross bodily damage to the benefit of paying clients (in the film, and yes, you, paying audience.) What makes this interesting is that these men are lured into these situations by female sex workers. Prostitutes, escorts, strippers – these lascivious ladies of the night are usually the sort of characters who get popped off almost instantly in a horror. But not here, in fact, here, the men who so enthusiastically seek to treat these women like objects, to engage in the institutionalized abuse of women who don’t matter because of their relationships to sex are punished.

Not only are they punished, but the women are not. They are neither compliant or active, they simply have the opportunity to deliver the nice, white bread men into the clutches of evil. It doesn’t seem fair, until one stops and thinks about the way nice, white bread men are allowed to treat strippers, prostitutes and even any other women in film. As the women lure the men in they are beautiful, porn-staresque babes, flowing locks and perfectly glossy pouts, and once the men are in the facility and facing their torturous deaths, we see the women unmade up. Because they are real people, not just agents of destruction.

My Favorite Place On The Internet

It’s a well known fact that I am in love with the Internet. However, beyond and over all places, I love one website most. I love it more than Facebook, Pinterest, Netflix, or Etsy. More than Vogue.com, The New York Times, Gilt Groupe or Twitter, I love it even more than the website where I play hours of Tetris.

I love Chubby Bunnies best.

Chubby Bunnies is a body positive Tumblr blog run and administered by a woman named Bec who lives in Australia. Bec is the kind of warm, supportive person who reaches out, offers comfort and advice, she’s non-judging, caring and smart. Her personal blog, and Chubby Bunnies are opinionated, well-informed, and welcoming. She’s the kind of person one aspires to be, someone who offers a kind of real love to people for no reason except that it’s right.

Chubby Bunnies is part of an ever-growing network of body positive Tumblrs and websites. As the name would suggest, Chubby Bunnies is fat positive. Striving to create a safe space for fat people, particularly fat girls (there is a Chubby Bunny Boys blog too.) to express themselves, articulate their struggles, their happiness, and in many cases the sexuality that fat people are denied.

It runs on submissions, thousands of women from all over the world submit pictures. Faces, bums, boobs, tummies, and often personally ground-breaking full body shots. Pictures of girls in every state and style of clothing to complete undress. Each picture tells a story, each one, with or without commentary offers a window into the personal life of someone living in a body that they are told to hate every single day, and yet refuse to.

It’s an incredibly inspiring place. Firstly, because Bec doesn’t hesitate to reblog important content, regarding sex advocacy, women’s rights, queer and gender issues, and human rights. Secondly, because every single person I’ve seen on the blog is beautiful. Every photograph is an exercise in bravery, in confidence, in standing up for something. Chubby Bunnies is a space where the fat woman’s body becomes political. What aesthetically, society demands be hidden, the sexuality it pretends does not exist, the confidence that, frankly, scares everyone else flows forth freely and powerfully.

We spend a lot of our lives looking at images of women. For a fat girl these images can be incredibly painful; models, actresses, diagrams in textbooks which look nothing like us. A skinny, slim ideal held up as the only way to be healthy, sexy, desirable, confident, even acceptable. I’ve spent a lot of my life looking at other fat women I see around, trying to look at their bodies and rationalize my own. Chubby Bunnies allows this, it allows me to look at bodies like mine, girls of similar shapes, with similar thighs, rolls, and tubby little knees and see myself reflected. It’s not the reflection we’re lead to believe looks back at a fat person; these women are not disgusting, lazy, dirty or gross. They’re beautiful, powerful, individual and sexy. Their bodies are appealing, the wide hips, soft stomaches and arms, all speak to an aesthetic we are culturally denied.

Frequently, girls write in on their pictures that the blog has improves their self-confidence. It’s unsurprising, seeing something we’ve never been allowed to look at changes the way we feel, changes the way we feel about ourselves. It’s remarkable, profound and important. So, if you’re game for seeing some beautiful, awesome, empowered fat girls this is the place to go.

And that is why, Chubby Bunnies is my favorite place on the Internet.

 

The Most Beautiful Girl

Once upon a time in 1993, I was on holiday in Europe with my mother and father. It was their habit to fly into London, spend just under a week in the great metropolis and then tour off to some part of the Continent for a more traditional holiday – usually Portugal for two weeks of beach-going on the Algarve. London was always my favorite part of these trips. Growing up in African cities, nothing impressed me like London (even now, after 8 years in Washington D.C. and a lot of global traveling, still, nothing impresses me like London.) At the time, I was just so overwhelmed by the magnificence of the City that I didn’t stop to think about why I was so fond of it. Now, as a grown-up I realize it all comes down to the trip in ’93 when I was 7.

One of the best things about London, and one of my favorite things in life is the Underground. I adore the Underground. Fascinated by it’s labyrinthine structures, elaborate history, relationship to culture, advertising, tourism, crime and engineering – it is a public transit system like no other. I’ve loved riding the Tube as long as I can remember. However, in terms of formative moments in my life, the London Underground plays host to one of the most important.

The event takes place either on the Circle or District line going from High Street Kensington to Bayswater, my little family was returning from dinner and an evening out on a warm night. Standing in the train I remember perfectly seeing the most beautiful girl I had ever seen. She couldn’t have been older than 20 or 21, was neither remarkably tall or short. Her hair was partially shaved on one size, bleached to the spiky roots and what wasn’t shaved was a shock of electric green. Her clothes where black, tight, adorned with patches, chains and studs. She wore a ring in her nose, her eyebrow, and many more up her ears. There was a black tattoo visible emerging from the dark sleeve of her shirt that in my childhood imagination covered everything I couldn’t see, from collar (which was plunging) to the soles of her Doc Martens. She had large, oddly translucent blue eyes, surrounded by a forest of heavily made-up lashes, pale (somewhat unhealthy) skin and no less than 3 or 4 rings through her lower lip. She was gazing into the middle distance and drinking a beer. Out of a can. Through a straw.

I could not tear my eyes off this girl, she was amazing. Compelling, beautiful, shocking and somehow wise, cool, perceptive. Little girls are shown a constant slew of hopeful role-models, ideal representatives – this was the one that stayed with me. I later asked my mother why the girl had been using the straw, my mother said she assumed it was because the rings in her lip make it difficult to drink from a can (I learned this lesson for myself later on, but it’s only difficult when the peircings are fresh, at least one of those was new.)

Don’t get me wrong, there are probably millions of beautiful, stylish, inspiring women in London at any given moment, I can credit a terrific proportion of my path into adulthood to these women, but the punk rock girl drinking a beer through a straw on the Underground stayed with me for the rest of my life. She was an icon, she remains one of the most powerful visual influences in my life.

The difference between the girl on the Underground, the women I watched in London over the next 6 years (I was absorbent until I was 13, and then I started projecting.) and other people was that women in London were cool. They dressed smartly – whether they were mainstream or counterculture, they carry themselves with an air of defiance and confidence. Their aggressive self-definition and black ensembles left an indelible mark on me (Some of my most vivid memories involve my father talking about how girls in London look good in all black outfits, “they always look very stylish in all black”. No prizes for identifying the contents of my closet today.)

The message was clear, even to a 7 year old – make yourself. Make yourself. Make yourself cool, make yourself stand out, make yourself beautiful – the way you see it, by your standards. Make yourself something to see, someone to respect, command attention, shock, admiration, horror. Fear not the petty sideways glances of the masses, rise above and define yourself. It was powerful and intoxicating, and as I wrestled my way to adulthood, often embarrassed, still at odds with a body that grew too quickly to understand (I was 5’7 at the age of 10, 6′ by the time I was 15.) the image of the girl on the Underground was a beacon, a light I would follow. The idea of this remarkable young woman, probably unrecognizable today from her old self (she may well be in her early 40s now) demonstrated by the power of self-definition, the power of the different.

It is not enough in life to exist, to plod from day to day, event to event – it is essential, particularly for young women in this exact cultural moment, to grasp onto something. To shake off the desires of similarity, and to recognize that the people who have the power to do something, affect change, command attention are people who do what they want, not what they are expected to do. It is not enough to think interesting thoughts, life requires that we articulate. Triumph demands that one reject the rules of others, the limiting narratives of mass identification and instead take a deep breath, hold one’s head high and just be cool.