Tag: Feminism

#NationalLipstickDay

“Pour yourself a drink, put on some lipstick, and pull yourself together.”
– Elizabeth Taylor

Raise your favorite fistful of weaponry high, girls and fabulously unbothered guys, for today we celebrate our adult safety blanket, our liquid courage, the exclamation point we wear on our faces. Today is National Lipstick Day!

The Lipstick Effect

Sometimes I’m so hilariously on-type as a millennial that I have to laugh. I definitely am part of the post-2008 Great Recession generation of adults who graduated into a bit of a financial wasteland and so turned to buying smaller “luxuries” instead of bigger purchases like houses and and cars. Sorry for killing those industries, boomers! The lipstick effect is a real thing and I wonder how much my generational timing has played into my love of it as a product. Would I still love it without the perils of financial instability looming over me? Probably. Would it be a small symbol of disposable income, a measure of control over my appearance when bigger ticket items are utterly beyond my reach, a talisman of bravery against a world in which I felt small and disenfranchised and poor without that backdrop? Likely not. Lipstick as I like to say, is armor.

Scarlet red lips don’t appear in nature but they are almost uniformly agreed to be fabulous. Nude colored lipstick promise a “your lips but better” experience for the more demure. Either way you swing, lipstick is designed to make you feel like you can choose and put on a better version of yourself. Someone bolder, someone more polished, someone who doesn’t care how other people look at her, someone who insists that other people look at her and see what she wants them to see. It is a fundamentally frivolous purchase, a bit of artifice in a plastic or metal tube, but also a delightful and powerful collective fiction.

I love the stories about the importance of beauty to Britain under rationing in World War II. Apparently Hitler was anti cosmetics which was just one of may reasons for British women to eke out that tube of contraband as long as possible. Women were encouraged to keep glamorous (with the usual sexist overtones) but there was a recognition that choosing to look as you wished to, to portray yourself to the world as you wished to be seen or saw yourself at your best, was fundamental to morale. It doesn’t take a war to want to feel that way.

My Love Affair With Lipstick

I was growing into my love for it towards the end of my university years, but it was in young adulthood that the flirtation really blossomed into a love affair. We’ve been very happy together ever since. I own too much, but I wear ever single bullet and tube I buy regularly because I love the whole experience that goes with it. I love shopping for it, testing out shades, seeing how I feel in them, hoarding them like a dragon over my gold, and picking one every day that will make me feel great to wear.

You can’t accidentally fall into lipstick, it is an intentional product. Unless you are supremely gifted, you have to pay attention to apply it correctly, and you often have to “touch it up” throughout the day to keep it looking tidy and at full strength–unless you have mastered the art of not caring whilst still achieving effortless, chic status. In which case, DM me, I have a few questions. Personally, I love whipping out a small mirror in the afternoon for a quick once over. I usually find it reassuring to be reminded that I have a little extra something on my face that feels positive, pretty, and powerful.

It’s become “my thing,” part of my brand, for lack of a better word. At a previous job, a man from another company who I had only met once previously was discussing our meeting to a colleague and forgot my name. He struggled for a moment before describing me as, “The woman, the one with the lipstick.” I was not the only woman in this meeting, nor the only one with lip product on her face. Mine had stood out somehow. Good. I’d chosen it for exactly that purpose and it worked.

I don’t wear lipstick for other people and certainly not for male attention. My husband knows how lipstick makes me feel and he’s not above kissing me while in my full warpaint. He is perfectly able to wipe off any excess; it doesn’t hurt him. He is also wise enough occasionally divert a kiss to my cheek or forehead (or at his most adorable, my nose) while lovingly and teasingly saying, “I don’t want to smudge you.” He gets it. And as for anyone else, I don’t wear it for them; I wear lipstick because I feel better with it on.

Lipstick, like shoes, always fits. It makes an old T-shirt and a comfortable pair of jeans into an “outfit.” It is a pocket sized personality beacon. It is a blatant claiming of space and attention, even and perhaps especially just for yourself.

Lipstick is Armor

I made a friend several years ago who didn’t necessarily share my love of lipstick. She had a minimal beauty style that suited her to the ground and she preferred to wear things that made her complexion the star of the show. She always looked fantastic.

One day over lunch we were swapping stories and tidbits of information, and somehow we got on to the subject of beauty. We complimented one other’s taste (because women loving women is the best) and she asked me about lipstick because she noticed I always wore it. I laughed and gave her a truncated version of this post: how it makes me feel to wear it and how I know it’s just wax and pigment that it somehow, genuinely makes me happier and braver. She got it too.

“You know, I have a lipstick drawer somewhere,” she said after a moment. “I never use the stuff, but I love knowing that it’s there. Just in case. I may need it some day.”

 

Dad, Skip This One (or, I Got an IUD and We’re Going to Talk About It)

“Woman must have her freedom, the fundamental freedom of choosing whether or not she will be a mother and how many children she will have. Regardless of what man’s attitude may be, that problem is hers — and before it can be his, it is hers alone. She goes through the vale of death alone, each time a babe is born. As it is the right neither of man nor the state to coerce her into this ordeal, so it is her right to decide whether she will endure it.” 
― Margaret Sanger, Woman and the New Race

Late last year I decided to switch my birth control to an IUD, which was a less common option available to me when I was first considering it nearly a decade ago. It’s becoming more normal, but still isn’t fully normalized among some groups so I thought, hey! We haven’t had a massively controversial topic here on SDS in a minute (…unless you are one of my more conservative readers, in which case, hi, I’m really glad you’re here! Thank you for putting up with my almost weekly exasperated political grumpiness). Why don’t we talk about one woman’s experience in controlling her fertility, thanks to a socialist system of medicine. That will bring people together!

Honestly, though, it’s worth talking about because I think IUDs should be a more common option than they are in some areas of the world. When I first went on birth control in the US, I timidly asked my then-doctor if it was an option only to be scolded that it wasn’t something I should consider. I kind of wish I had pressed the issue, but as I didn’t have massive complaints about my experience with the pill at the time, I stayed on it for nearly nine years.

Image via Pexels

In order to get an IUD I had to first discuss the option at a normal appointment, book a secondary appointment with a specialist to talk through the pros, cons, and risks of the procedure, and then book a third appoint to actually have the device inserted. It sounds a bit obnoxious, but I appreciate the amount of effort the NHS puts into informing and preparing patients for this birth control option. There are hormonal versions and non-hormonal ones, each with unique common side effects, and there are risks to any kind of invasive procedure, so arming yourself with information and asking a boat load of questions is not just encouraged, it was practically compulsory. I went through my series of appointments and scheduled the final one over the Christmas break to allow my body to go through any of the symptoms I was warned I could experience.

Everyone’s experience is unique but typically the insertion procedure more difficult for for women who have never given birth, and sure enough, mine was not a walk in the park. It turns out that deliberately inserting something in the opposite direction nature intended things to move, through an orifice designed to stay closed until another human forces its way out–not easy! It took multiple attempts and I bless my doctor for for being willing to keep trying and talking me through the process and options. I handled the process with my usual style and grace: doing my best to crack jokes to mask my awkwardness and making conversation while stripped from the waist down as the doctor became intimately acquainted with my internal workings. The high point (or low depending on your point of view) was when the doctor, several instruments and intrusions into the procedure, suddenly exclaimed, “What on earth is that?” causing me to demand, “What’s wrong?” in a squeaky and alarmed voice. She burst out laughing and apologized, saying that she had overheard someone raising their voices in the hall and everything…of mine…was a-ok. I chuckled weakly and did my best to calm down.

The sensations were mostly discomfort with flashes of intense-discomfort-bordering-on-pain-but-not-quite. Pre-warned by friends, my GP, and plenty of research I came to the appointment armed with over the counter painkillers and was able to breathe through the worst of the poking and prodding. My procedure was longer than the average appointment, but the doctor built in time for a bit of recovery and monitoring in-office, which I appreciated.

After my innards had gotten over the initial shock (and I use that phrase seriously; my uterus had several questions about the situation and was making its discomfort known through some vigorous cramps) my GP took my blood pressure. It was nicely spiked, which is apparently a good thing because it turns out that for reasons not fully understood, the female human heart rate tends to plummet when you poke her in the cervix. Bodies are weird.

Fellow uterus-bearing types: be smarter than me. If you have transportation, and more importantly a designated driver, use this resource.

After my heart rate returned to normal and I felt pretty calm, I walked home the blessedly short distance between my GP and my flat. This was probably a mistake. At my normal pace this is a brisk, five minute jaunt and I had some vague motion that easy movement would help me “settle” my new internal friend in a gentle way. I was a fool, it was the slowest, saddest walk you can imagine. My steps were about four inches in length–anything more strident than that and I experienced intense muscular twinges from my knees to my shoulders–and very small movements triggered cramps that are on par with the most serious menstrual cramps I’ve ever experienced.

Again, I wouldn’t classify what I was experiencing as pain. The best way I can describe it is as a full court press of discomfort. My body had experienced something invasive and highly unusual and every part of me from my uterus to my lizard brain was clearly trying to adjust to a series of new sensations. It’s not unheard of for the body to expel the device for some women on their first try using it as their primary birth control method, and this was my most immediate paranoid concern.

By the time I shuffled slowly through the front door, I felt exhausted and achy all over. Jeff immediately tucked me into bed where, thanks to continuing full body cramps, I stayed there for the better part of two days. It might sound foolish, but I honestly believe I was going through some kind of wussy version of shock as I was a bit floaty for those two days and slept heavily. I was also advised to take it slow for a few days to allow my uterus to adjust to a foreign body, so things like exercise were cautioned against until I felt fighting fit.

But wait, there was more! The procedure triggered an early arrival of my period and kicked off an additional week of uneven spotting (both are very normal side effects and ones I had been prepped for by my GP). I was advised that spotting could occur intermittently for a few weeks but thus far I’ve not experienced anything past that first week of adjustment. In fact I’ve had no other negative side effects at all: my skin has remained even and healthy, which I was lucky enough to have before I went on the pill years ago, and after that first few days of wild physical and strangely emotional sensations, everything has leveled out.

So, why did I do it?

Image via Pexels

A few reasons. Though there is no scientific evidence to suggest that the pill contributes to weight gain or difficulty with weight loss, there is a lot of anecdotal content from people who believe that hormonal birth control contributed to their weight in some way. As for me, I’m not sure. My weight changed after I went on the pill all those years ago and whether this was due solely to the lifestyle change of getting married and living with a guy who consumes approximately seventeen times as many calories a day as me, or was influenced by other factors I cannot say for sure. But my weight started going up at about the same time I went on my prescription/got married and for the past nine years no matter how healthy I was eating or how regularly I was exercising (every day at my most dedicated), I never lost what I had gained. I’ve made some diet changes recently, about the same time I went off the pill…and I’ve lost nearly 10lbs in under a month with no other changes to my day to day life. It’s purely anecdotal and personal to me, but I’m very happy to see a dramatic positive shift even if it’s temporary or plateaus in some way.

I also suspected, and I discussed the possibility at length with my doctor, that the pill might have been contributing to the frequency of my migraines. These attacks have become more frequent in recent years and as time went on I found them getting closer and closer together.  Changes in your levels of female sex hormones are a possible trigger for migraines, so it seemed possible that the medication that regulates my hormones might have something to do with the pattern of these attacks. Then again, stress also triggers migraines for me so a number of factors could be at play here. Again, the science is still evolving on this, and again, I discussed this with my doctor across several appointments in considering switching up my birth control methods. Ultimately we decided to try a non-hormonal option to see if there were any changes. About a month later, I’ve yet to have another migraine attack.

Finally, removal of an IUD is a fairly easy procedure and if you’re on a non-hormonal option as I chose, your normal fertility is restored almost instantly. Meaning that if and when we decide my husband and I want to try and start a family, I won’t have to go through a process of weaning my body off hormones first. An option that was instantly effective upon insertion and is instantly negated on removal appeals to me.

So all in all, this first foray into addressing a couple of health concerns this year seems to be going okay and the decisions seems like it was a good one so far. It was worth it for me to take a few days discomfort in exchange for a non hormonal method of birth control that’s over 99% effective, lasts up to ten years, and doesn’t require a daily medication. I did a lot of research into it as an option and am lucky to enjoy a health system that offers it as an option and takes providing me with it as a serious matter worthy of informative sessions with specialists.

The comments are open: if you feel like sharing an experience in making a major health decision, please do so. I’m interested in hearing how people choose to take control of their health or wellbeing and as there are about 7 billion bodies on the planet, I suspect there are 7 billion stories out there about choices, consequences, and information to share. 

Weekend Links – Lady Rage Returns!

“Being a woman is a terribly difficult trade since it consists principally of dealings with men.” 
― Joseph Conrad, Chance

Hi kittens, it’s been a while since we had a links post dedicated almost entirely to lady-rage, so let’s do that. It’s a bit exhausting to be living in an age of real-time…everything. It feels as if we don’t get breaks between scandals or bombshells anymore and that can wear us down (or me at least), but the one bright spot is that a lot of things can also be confronted in real time now. Behaviors and trends that have been allowed to percolate in the shadows are now seeing sunlight. It’s ugly to witness what has been tolerated or protected for far too long, sometimes, but necessary to go through.

Let me know what you are doing this weekend in the comments! I’m working on a freelance assignment and lounging. I may do some laundry and talk Jeff into helping me clean the bathrooms if I’m feeling really frisky!

Fuck this noise! Whenever friends or family members ask me when I’m moving back to the states, my default answer has become, “You do know I have healthcare, birth control, and maternity cover options here, right?”

The reactions to this game’s release are…telling.

RIP.

Shock, surprise, etc.

So excited about this! I loved Planet Earth II and Sir David Attenborough’s voice is the most soothing to doze off to whilst watching documentaries.

I don’t think I covered this in last week’s links so let’s talk about Harvey Weinstein and long-running rumors bursting into the light.

The Cut talks about why it took so bloody long for years of rumors to become confirmed fact, including what women are up against in trying to go up against a rich and powerful man and why they are doing so in the current cultural moment.

The Cut also argues that calling the current epidemic of behavioral bs we’re confronted with these days “toxic masculinity” doesn’t go far enough. I can’t say I disagree.

Speaking of, yes. Let’s please talk about the radicalization of white men more. Like, now.

Because this shit is happening while white guys are buying arsenals and no one bats an eye until a mass shooting suddenly “just happens.”

To summarize: sorry, patriarchy, we’re coming for you.

Led by Emma Thompson.

There’s a new true crime podcast to fall for…and I’m preparing to lap it up with a spoon.

How nerd culture went toxic: a helpful twitter thread.

Goodness. I don’t need this. And yet…

David Frum sums up my worst ideological fears. A horrible president is bad. If military figures circumvent a president’s constitutional authority, a historically bad precedent is set for future generals to do the same–perhaps for less altruistic reasons. We have a civilian commander in chief for a reason…I have not yet grappled with what that means for someone like me who is certain that the current incumbent is doing harm to both the office and national prestige and safety. Where do I draw a line if I believe that, in wanting perhaps to do the right thing, military leadership permanently damages the powers of the presidency now in a way that may come back to bite us all?

Album of the week: Masseducation by St. Vincent

Four Days in Paris Part 1

“Cities have sexes: London is a man, Paris a woman, and New York a well-adjusted transsexual.”
― Angela Carter

I’ve been putting these posts together for a while now, and the day I was going to post the first part of the story, there was another attack in Paris. The information of this us still being pieced together.

The city of light is a resilient old girl, just as London is a crusty old guy, and both are holding it together spectacularly. And yet. It does feel like there are people who want to rip it to shreds because it’s beautiful and (at it’s best) it an be seen as a symbol of people getting along in spite of forces trying to rip it apart. Sometimes failing miserably, but still trying.

There’s a reason people fall in love with Paris. It revels in beauty and thought and language, which is dangerous to the harsh and the narrow. It’s sumptuous and gauche and luxurious and wretched all at the same time. It wears its age and its history well, and it doesn’t seem to be ashamed of even its own darker moments. It’s easy to love and so I think it must be easy to hate too.

It’s not surprising to me that Paris is considered female or feminine in its language or its characterization. It’s not safe to be beautiful, disappointing, sexy, boring, interesting, complicated, conflicted, contrary, romanticized, fetishized, put on a pedestal, found lacking, found transcendent, loved, or hated. Paris is all of these things. I’m always glad when go and I’m sorrowed that I or other people have to second guess whether or not it’s safe to right now. We need her romance and charm and pleasure and sober history more than ever.

“The Lip That Launched A Thousand Sticks”

“This is the first red lipstick that I ever bought.”
“So this is the lip that launched a thousand sticks?”
“…You’re really proud of that one, aren’t you?”
“Yep!”
– C. and Jeff

My love for lipstick is fairly well documented, but I was well into my 20s before I slicked that first wash of carmine on my face.

I wasn’t quite a tomboy as a kid, but I certainly wasn’t interested in makeup and fashion for most of my adolescence. A good portion of that was frankly bad old fashioned female-on-female disdain, I’m sorry to say. Growing up I always put a lot of value in my brainpower and based much of my sense of identity on my intelligence and interests rather than my personal appearance. This in and of itself is NOT a bad thing, but my major error was in simultaneously being harsh on girls who did put effort into their appearance. I too fell prey to the common but sloppy thinking that girls couldn’t be brainy and stylish at the same time, that to be interested in clothes or makeup was to be silly. It took me years to untangle that sort of black and white thinking around female identity and presentation!

The other reason I was so hesitant to really explore makeup in general and red lipstick in particular was because they intimidated me. Makeup was a skill that I didn’t possess and I was terrified of looking or feeling foolish in adulthood, as I often did with my early teenage forays. This is of course more or less a right of passage growing up, but to the young brain I think such fears are common. From time to time I dabbled with cosmetics, sometimes well but usually unsuccessfully. I particularly admired girls and women who worse intimidating slashes of red on their lips. They looked grown up, in command, at ease with themselves, and slightly dangerous–how I wanted to look and feel–but I never really bit the bullet and the few cheap drugstore lipsticks I bought usually languished barely touched in drawers for months before a move necessitated throwing them out.

I remember the actual image I saw that convinced me to just go for it, already. Here it is, I’ve saved the pin for years. I was working my first job after university at the time and remember being stunned at how pretty and simple the model looked wearing it–she wasn’t covered in a full vintage style slap, she looked fresh and chic. Aside from her obviously stunning red hair, the lipstick was her only highlighted feature, the only product doing any heavy lifting on her face. That doesn’t look so hard, I thought to myself. I bet I could do that.

Jo Goddard (of a Cup of Jo fame, the site where I spotted the image) was able to confirm the exact shade thanks to her contacts in the magazine world. The shade was Red Red Red by Clinique (which I think has been discountinued, or is at least as far as I have been been able to deduce, unfindable in the UK). I bought it the same day I saw that blog post, and wore it almost every day for months/years. Eventually I wore it down to the nub; to date it is still the only lipstick I have ever fully finished, but I still own the tube for sentimental reasons.

 photo Red Red Red_zpsrzw7gw7s.png
I will never, ever throw this tube away.

That color became my totem for early adulthood. It was a silly, small thing, but it made a big difference in how I felt about myself when I slid the bullet over my lips. I was now a girl who word red. It gave me a sense of bravery, command, and self that I honestly didn’t have before I discovered that it was okay and not at all shallow, shameful, or otherwise silly to want to feel pretty. I coined the phrase, “Lipstick is armor,” during this phase, and I still mean it today. Much later on, lipstick has became a sort of brand item for me–a fact I realized when someone at my old job couldn’t remember my name to a colleague but described me as, The Girl With the Lipstick. My lip arsenal has grown by leaps and bounds since them, but I’m never without at least a couple on my person–different shades ready to be deployed as circumstances warrant. I could feel embarrassed by how many I own…but I don’t. They makes me feel beautiful.

Lipstick was a gateway drug into the world of beauty and make up, that strange place that in my adolescence I simply never felt brave enough to really enter.  The consequences have been, ah…pricey, but also really satisfying. I’ve made some beauty mistakes along the way, I’ve continuously experimented with different style personas, and I’ve occasionally laughed at my expense when the results don’t turn out great. I’ve had some hilarious misadventures in trying to find my correct foundation shades, and the skills required for a really killer smokey eye still escape me after years of trying. More than once I’ve left the house thinking I look fine only to catch sight of myself in a mirror hours later and think, I’ve made a huge mistake. That’s okay.

It’s just make up. It comes off. And if all else fails, I can put on a red lip with nothing else and still feel pretty damn great about the way I look.

International Women’s Day: The Ironic Wisdom of Learning to Keep My Mouth Shut

“Deeds not words.”
– Suffragette slogan

Becoming aware of how much criticism is heaped on women for their life choices is depressing. Becoming further aware of how much of this criticism stems from other women is downright devastating. For me personally, realizing how guilty I used to be (and occasionally still can be if I don’t watch myself) of this behavior was humbling.

 photo 6a00d8341c6a0853ef01b8d1ac8c44970c_zpsentgetbq.gif

I grew up in a culture that has highly defined gender roles and a lot of codified expectations for women and girls. I’ve written about the dress codes here, which also touches on the expectation that women “should stay home,” that they should be the primary caregivers to children, and uncomfortable echoes of rape culture. I’m no longer in this culture or ascribe to a lot of those values in the same way. But being out here in wider society as opposed to a small religious group isn’t necessarily easier when it comes to the pressures heaped on women.

Unmaking a lot of the lessons I’d been taught about gender and femaleness from a young age took and still takes a lot of work. In either constructing or reconstructing my own views on gender and the female experience, I’ve had to critically examine not just the views I was raised with, but also the knee-jerk reactionary views I sometimes developed in response to opinions that reminded me of my childhood culture. As fiercely committed as I am to supporting other women and claiming my feminism, I still have a lot of work to do.

Unmaking your own critical tendencies is a hard line to walk. I have just as many opinions about  how to live as anybody, but what I have made a dedicated effort to do in the past few years, is simply decline to judge most women’s life choices. From sex to education, childbearing to careers, I’ve come to the conclusion that how other women choose to order their lives is almost entirely none of my business. Where another person’s choices do not affect me, or does not impact my ability to make my own choices or my legal rights, what I have learned and try awfully hard to practice is the age old wisdom of keeping my mouth shut.*

I’m not talking about politics or policy in this post, what I’m speaking of here is the personal criticisms or judgement we casually fling at women who chose to work full time, stay home with children, hire help, use professional childcare, ask family to babysit regularly, have multiple sex partners, practice celibacy, eat paleo, eat vegan, eschew social media, take selfies, wear short skirts, wear hijab, read Talmud, read romance novels, do bodybuilding, not exercise at all, go into military service, go into nursing, have an abortion, decline to practice birth control, grow their hair long, wear their hair super short, be atheist, pray at the Wailing Wall, have tattoos, cover their skin from neck to ankle…

The list is quite literally endless. It often feels like we can’t win for losing!

Instead of picking apart, examining, or even stressing about other women’s choices, what I’ve committed to is supporting their choices better. They may bear no resemblance to the choices I’d make for myself, my marriage, my family, or my career; I may even disagree outright with her positions. But where her choices work for her, break no laws, and cause no harm, the onus is on me to stand up for her decisions the way I’d hope others will stand up for mine. The world is still plenty hard on women. I’m convinced it will get a bit better if we are easier on one another.

And the only control I have over that goal is starting with my own behavior. I like to think I’ve gotten better, and I like to think I’ll get better still.

Amy Poehler popularly summed this up in her book Yes Please with the phrase, “That is the motto women should constantly repeat over and over again. Good for her! Not for me.” This idea is full of generosity and, dare I say, grace.

*I separate this from political activism/engagement, it’s worth noting. I put my money and my time where my values are.