Imperfections Make You Beautiful, And I’m Not Just Saying That

What makes a beach beautiful? Waves that coil in exact tubular form, all the same size, leaving no mess behind? A perfectly flat surface, or surrounding cliffs that are smoothed over and uniformly shaped? Crayola blue water?

No! When we think of beautiful beaches, what may come to mind are waves crashing both large and small, spraying water and mist in various directions, going in and out- maybe even to the side. Or maybe there are no waves at all- just a gentle tide. Perhaps there are rocky, jagged cliffs lining a cove. Maybe the water is a deep navy or a light turquoise.

Thus, a beautiful beach is imperfection. It is not something that can be created in a factory, that looks exactly like all of the other ones. Beautiful beaches are the ones that have things that are weird or rough about them. In general, places on Earth that we typically designate as being beautiful are inherently unusual.

Take this photo of Rio de Janeiro, for example:

Rio de Janeiro 00833

If you think about it, Rio is pretty weird looking. There’s a coastline that’s shaped like a horseshoe, random islands jetting out nearby, with one in particular that looks like an animal lying facedown with its head and butt in the air. Yet, it is gorgeous, and I desperately want to go there. If Rio were all uniformly shaped, it would look pretty boring; it would lose what makes the Rio coastline the Rio coastline.

This beach in Miami has turquoise-clear water:

However, this one in Greece is a more sapphire/royal blue, with grey, rocky sand:

And they are both stunning! Greece wouldn’t be Greece if it looked like Miami, and Miami wouldn’t be Miami if it looked like Greece.

The thing is, humans are a part of nature, too. If we all looked perfectly uniform, we would be quite uninteresting. However, as Mother Nature herself has shown us, what makes all of us beautiful are the things that are off and different about us- just like the beaches and the mountains. You wouldn’t be you if you looked like me, and I wouldn’t be me if I looked like you! The fact that we all look uniquely like ourselves- not smoothed over, not a perfectly symmetrical form- is the essence of beauty.

I bet that you think that your crush or significant other is sexy because they look the way that they do; I doubt that you’ve ever spent any chunk of time analyzing their “imperfections” and wishing that they looked like a different person. Rather, you like them because you like… them.

So, don’t just accept your “flaws” (who the hell decided what a “flaw” is anyway?)- embrace them. Love them. Give yourself a big hug and a kiss, because you are gorgeous and awesome.


Is Free People Cute (or Just the Worst Purveyor of Cultural Appropriation)?

Not1_2_MakedaSeyoum (1)
Which one is the traditional Ethiopian/Eritrean design, and which one is the Urban Outfitters dress?

I am a sucker for “bohemian” fashion, and against my inner-hipster/culturally aware self, I still think that clothes from such stores as Free People, Urban Outfitters, and Anthropologie are cute. Those three brands are, in fact, owned by the same company, and they are marketed towards customers with similar aesthetics yet different price points and ages: Urban Outfitters is the young, hip, and “alternative” customer, Free People is the “worldly, bohemian” girl who is hippie enough to dress hippie but affluent enough to spend $100 on a skirt, and Anthropologie is an older, wealthier woman who still wants to look “indie.” I think that Free People probably resembles my personal style best, or at least the style that I wish to emulate.

Not to brag or anything, but I won “best dressed” in my high school yearbook thanks to the offbeat outfits that I wore to school. Nylon Magazine was my religious text of choice, Jenny Lewis my style icon; I tried to combine girly, 1950s, 1990s, country, and just plain weird things in the hopes of looking cute yet different. I definitely stood out from my Southern California peers who were all clad in Rainbow sandals (ironically coming only in shades of tan) and jean shorts. However, around age 18, I got really into reggae music, and moving to Seattle for University instilled in me a deep-seated nostalgia for the beach; I wanted my outer look to mirror my newfound “laid-back” personality.

Before I could start traveling, I had to buy clothes from American retailers that still conveyed the “global gypsy look” which I was seeking. Free People became my muse, my longing- for I couldn’t exactly afford their clothing on my student income. Clothes with “exotic” prints or such labels as “Aztec,” “Navajo,” “Moroccan,” etc. called to me.

In the past year, however, I have become familiar with a term called cultural appropriation. This is a phenomena wherein one culture- typically the dominant, oppressive one- adapts elements of a minority, oppressed culture. One example would be a white American wearing a Native American headdress. The wearing of the headdress is problematic not just because the person is white, but because oftentimes the non-Native American wears it simply because it “looks cool”- thus not understanding its symbolic meaning. In reality, a headdress is supposed to be worn by Native American chiefs or warriors, not a drunk person at Coachella.

Urban Outfitters stirred controversy that led to an online petition last year when it sold a dress called “90s Vintage Linen Dress” that looked exactly like a traditional Ethiopian/Eritrean design. It was beyond inspiration from Ethiopia/Eritrea- it was basically a copy that gave no credit whatsoever to the culture from which it came. However, it wasn’t the first time that Urban Outfitters came under fire for cultural appropriation/insensitivity; the Navajo Nation actually sued the company for misuse of its trademarked name back in 2012. During a time when designers across the globe had become infatuated with Navajo culture and fashion, Urban Outfitters created items like the “Navajo Panty” and “Navajo Flask”- the flask being particularly insensitive, given the Nation’s ban on alcohol on its reservations.

Additionally, Free People frequently uses the exoticization (is that a word?) of foreign cultures, particularly non-White cultures, in its quest to sell products. Their current online theme is “Moroccan Romance,” which is all very pretty- but, in my opinion, it is quite a big stretch to put a red zig-zag print skirt or an embroidered peasant blouse that looks more Mexican than anything under the umbrella of “Moroccan” (confusingly enough, the red zig-zag print skirt is itself called Maracana, which is the name of the stadium in Brazil where the World Cup will be held) The photos of the models wearing the clothes weren’t taken in Morocco- they’re just standing in front of a pretty blue tiled wall. To me, it just seems like they picked an “interesting/exotic” sounding country and slapped it onto their collection.

None of this is really new, though; hippies of the 1960s were inspired by non-White fashion in their efforts to go against mainstream society. Both men and women wore clothing adapted from places as disparate as India and Sub-Saharan Africa to achieve their signature look. Today, are we copying the hippies who copied other cultures, or are we copying the cultures themselves?

Where does one draw the line between liking clothes from other cultures and copying, appropriating, or exoticising (again, is that a word?) them?

The Era of the Over-Sharer

I have several Internet pet peeves, one of which is when people have political debates via comments on a Facebook status, and the other being the over-sharers. There are some people whom I have literally met once yet feel like I know deeply and personally, thanks to their regular Facebook updates; I know where they go to school, whether or not they dropped out of school, in what city they live, where they work, whether or not they like their job, what they ate for breakfast, if they are single or in a relationship, how their relationship is going, how long they have been together, and tragic life events such as if they have had a loved one pass away. As for the political debates, I used to partake in them just because I would become so angry at seeing a status or comment with an “inferior” opinion; I would always feel the need to “correct” the person with whom I disagreed. However, I soon came to the conclusion that if one is passionate enough about a subject to put forth so much energy into a Facebook comment, then perhaps one should use that energy to do something about the issue in real life- such as volunteering for a related nonprofit or campaigning for a politician. Sure, discussions are important, but discussions that do not lead to action are, in my opinion, pointless.

Yet, here I am with a blog that contains deeply personal and politically/sociologically charged content. Worse, I post links to my blog on Facebook.

Perhaps it is the artist’s dilemma; I use writing to express myself, and I wish to make a career out of it- yet I simultaneously do not want everyone to know my business. One topic that I never divulge on the Internet is about my romantic life. However, what’s a girl to do when, for example, she’s in the beginning stages of dating someone- you know, the giddy stage where you think about that person night and day? Clearly, that person is all that she is writing about, but she doesn’t want to post a blog entry about him. Not only would that put too much pressure on the relationship and probably make the boy uncomfortable, but why does one’s entire Facebook friend list need to be updated on one’s dating life, as if it were a gossip magazine? But alas, then one’s blog goes stale for a while. Shouldn’t the artist be constantly churning out work?

I also write about other difficult, private matters such as my father passing away and losing friends. I once posted a blog entry describing how angry and alienated I felt a month after my dad’s death, but I quickly deleted it; I found it to be much too personal to share with others, and I felt very exposed. It is difficult enough to be vulnerable in front of one person in real life- try being vulnerable in front of the Internet and everyone whom you have ever met in your life.

Still, what I am to do? Write about subjects that do not matter to me?

Regarding the political/sociological content about which I write, I sometimes have the issue wherein I feel the weight of the world on my shoulders; I go into these phases in which I read the news too much or let the problems of the world affect me. I care a lot about the mistreatment of women in particular. When I write on this topic, sometimes it is in an effort to be informative or to make the reader think about it in even a slightly different way; most of the time, it is just to release it from my person. However, my Facebook friends then inevitably go into political debates whenever I post on the subject, and it bugs me.

However, what am I to do? Write about banal topics?

My favorite type of art, in short, makes me think about things or feel things. I would much rather listen to Kendrick Lamar rap about the plight of prostitutes in Compton over how 2 Chainz wants a Big Booty Hoe for his birthday. I oftentimes turn to art when I am feeling upset or alone to know that there is someone else who has been through the same thing.

That is my only consolation- that perhaps someone out there who is going through something shitty will read my writing and feel like they can relate to it.

Either that, or I need to start using a pseudonym.

On Friendship

5-year-olds and 25-year-olds look vastly different from one another, yet some people hold onto friendships for that long. My 26-year-old sister, who hated middle school and high school because she never fit in and her peers tormented her, still has a group of girls with whom she has been friends since the sixth grade. Whenever I meet people who have these decade-long plus groups of friends, it astounds me. Why don’t I have that?

I moved away from my hometown after high school graduation, purposefully, and I went to a new state in which I didn’t know anyone at my university. I wanted that fresh start. Long Beach was boring to me, and sticking around seemed like failure in my eyes. I had an English teacher who once warned our class, “There are some people who attend Long Beach Poly High School, go to Cal State Long Beach, and then become teachers at Long Beach Poly. Don’t be one of those people- broaden your horizons! Get out of your comfort zone!” His advice rang in my soul’s eardrums, and off to Seattle I went.

High school was a rocky start in which the awkward middle school years seemed to linger for too long. However, by the graces of a guy who wanted to be my boyfriend, I started to shake loose the self-consciousness and tried to emulate his gregarious personality. It paid off in that I gained a bunch of new friends and felt much more confident on the outside and the inside. I also learned an interesting quirk about my personality in that I tend to be friends with people from various groups; I’m not one to have a “clique” with whom I hang out solely and exclusively. Rather, I have one friend here, one friend there, a couple of friends over there, and then my birthday parties end up being a little awkward because none of my friends know each other. By the end of high school, I knew that I had made it when my eighteenth birthday dinner party consisted of a group of eighteen or twenty of my closest friends.

Today, four years after that dinner party, I would only consider a couple of those people to be my “closest friends.”

Some of them moved across the country for university, and only being able to see each other, on average, about once a year has made us significantly less close. Those are the kinds of girls whom I still love seeing and catching up with whenever we are able to, but I’ve come to terms with the fact that it is extremely difficult to maintain close friendships of that nature.

A few of them and I gradually and mutually stopped talking to each other, wherein I think that we just grew apart.

A lot of them stopped talking to me.

Perhaps it’s a recognizable story: I would start to realize that I was the only one making the effort to spend time with a friend, and that most of the time when I would ask them to hang out, they would be “too busy.” Eventually, I would stop trying; I didn’t want to beg them to hang out with me or be a part of a one-sided friendship.

It was really sad to lose some of those friends in the beginning. However, I just saw it as, perhaps, the course that life takes when people grow up, go to college, and make their way into adulthood. I guess people really do change.
I started to become concerned, however, when the aforementioned scenario kept happening to me again and again.

I had to wonder: is there something wrong with me? Why don’t I seem to be able to hold onto my friendships? Am I like Taylor Swift, who keeps writing songs about her horrible boyfriends breaking up with her, incapable of realizing that perhaps she is the problem?

I thought that I was a good friend/likeable person; I’m fun, easygoing, always down for an adventure, reliable, loyal, and, I’d like to think, a good listener. If you call me at 3:00 A.M. in tears, I will counsel you and not be annoyed. If you call me at 3:00 A.M. wanting to take a spontaneous road trip somewhere, I will also be down. Yet, repeatedly finding myself in a situation wherein I was the only one making the effort to maintain a friendship made me wonder if my friends actually thought I was weird/boring/annoying/not a good listener/selfish/whatever. Asking oneself, “Why don’t people like me?” has got to be one of the worst internal experiences a person can have.

However, as I look back at the past several years and even the past several months, I have changed enormously. I have moved, lived on my own, traveled to India, studied in Paris and traveled independently in Europe. I went through a devastating breakup. My father died. I am a lot stronger and more mature than I was in high school, than I was a year ago. So maybe it is understandable that someone who would want to be friends with 16-year-old me wouldn’t want to be friends with current me, because those two versions of myself merely resemble each other- they’re like cousins.

Perhaps the most significant change that I have recently undergone is being a lot more comfortable with simply being myself. I feel more capable of being vulnerable, honest, and emotional in front of others; I can say the expression, “When my dad died,” without the handicap of becoming petrified. Additionally, writing was something that I used to do in secret, and even having an academic essay peer-edited in class terrified me. A year ago, I performed at my first open mic, and I now do so regularly and have a blog. Being myself is still a struggle, but I feel a lot more unabashed about it than I used to. At the end of the day, caring about what others think of me is too goddamn exhausting.

And ain’t nobody got time for that.

Alas, allow me to end with another familiar phrase, the one about how it’s better to be hated for who you are than loved for who you’re not. It’s painful, but it is true; the process of learning to be yourself can leave you with fewer friends, but at least those friends love you for your real self. Being loved for your real self feels a million times better than having a bunch of friends who don’t really know you and around whom you must constantly act.

This video is also very, very helpful on the subject of being yourself:

Glass House

As the walls of modern houses
and windows all over the world
I am so special
Look through me
Touch me
Forgetting the ice I invoke
or loving me because of it

Find me raw
Without my frame
I lie alone on the ground
My jagged edges cutting your skin

But you are a peaceful flame
A candle of such warmth
that you may melt me down to
whatever I truly am
And I hope to God that
I won’t hurt you anymore

The F Word

I don’t want to be annoying. I like bras and my long hair and boys. I like boys so much that I’m afraid to drop the F-bomb on them: Feminist. It was never something that I questioned before, having assumed that, obviously, everyone else in the world had the same definition of feminism as me- which consisted not of “hating men” or believing that women should be treated as if they were men; I believe that women and men should be treated equally as humans, and something as simple as that I thought was universally understood. However, on my third or fourth date with a boy whom, prior to this moment, I honestly believed to be my soul mate, I casually mentioned that I was a feminist and earnestly asked him if he was as well. We were in Southern California, after all, and in this modern age it was only natural for me to assume he’d say yes, right?

Wrong. I proceeded to give him the death glare after he ineloquently explained to me how women and men are “different” and naturally gravitate towards different roles, with women tending to me more family-oriented and men wanting to be the provider. He couldn’t call himself a feminist because he didn’t believe that women should hate men (when I, for some reason, continued to see this guy, he later told me that he “wasn’t informed enough” about feminism to make a judgment on whether or not he agreed with it). This was my first encounter with the double-edged sword of calling oneself a feminist, and to this day, as wrong as it is, I continue to struggle with this label.

How can I, at once, be a strong, independent female working to uplift other females when, God dammit, I like boys a lot? How do I be “feminine and dainty and flirty” in order to attract the opposite sex all the while vocalizing the oppressing effects of our patriarchal society? In other words, how do I not come off as a “scary feminist” when I’m on a date with a hot guy?

Yet, it is here that I have to stop and think: do I honestly want to date a guy who uses expressions such as “scary feminist?” While I don’t necessarily need to be with a guy who is exactly like me, I’m forgetting that a relationship needs to be built on a common set of beliefs. Sure, it might turn off a misogynistic guy to discuss my passion for female empowerment, but what do I care about impressing a misogynist anyway! Rather than downplaying my own self so as not to impede upon a guy’s sense of masculine dominance, I think that my real soul mate will want to grab the bullhorn with me to fight against the laundry list of violence and injustices that women face around this world.