The Problem with “Body Positivity” in Today’s Culture

d16388d8a9f6aee3e184b4ebe926e62cIn an age when anything on social media can and will go viral, celebrities and non-celebrities alike are turning to the Internet to share their messages of body positivity and acceptance. With all of the cyber-bullying out there, it’s great to see people using this platform for something good! However, the messages we see online (and in our media) about beauty and body image can be a little conflicting and sometimes more exclusionary than we think.

2015 has been a big year for the the makeup-free selfie craze — and truth be told, I’m not a fan. Let me clarify: I believe we should all have the right to take as many selfies as we want, with or without makeup (until, of course, our friends stop following us on social media for our liberal use of the hashtag #SelfieQueen… sorry, guys!). 🙂 Additionally, we all have the right to choose whether or not to wear makeup when we are in class, out for dinner, or even at the gym. However, we should do it because we feel like it… not because we are trying to make a particular statement about our media’s standards on beauty.

A big reason why I don’t buy into the makeup-free selfie craze is because it can be just as superficial as anything else, and a lot of the time, our online reactions to a celebrity’s photo are very different from our in-person reactions to a makeup-free friend or coworker. When Tyra Banks recently posted a photo of herself without makeup, people applauded her for showing the world her “real” self and demonstrating true body positivity. Meanwhile, when I forget to put on eyeliner, people tell me I look exhausted. 🙁

b65f127c604ae9d71f6c6c03f5747923e09b934e84aa9625869487b28a215167Makeup or no makeup, the amount of cosmetics you invest in does not determine how real you are or what your value to society truly is. As women, we are often told to wear makeup, but not too much, and don’t let the guys know you’re wearing it! We should go for that natural look that 9 out of 10 men surveyed by Cosmo claim to like, and forgo the red lipstick even if we personally prefer it. Wearing “too much” makeup (as determined by your audience) means you’re only focused on the surface level and you aren’t true to yourself. It probably also means that you have little to no self esteem and that you are too worried about societal beauty standards. And God forbid you wear any makeup when you work out!

It is important to defend a woman’s decision not to wear makeup, and to instead value her for the light she brings into the world. However, it is just as important to defend a woman’s right to wear makeup, get her hair done or have cosmetic surgery without immediately dismissing her as superficial and sad. As women, we can make body positive statements by standing up for one another, treating each other with kindness, and  recognizing that our value is not determined by our looks.

Wear makeup because you want to wear makeup. Skip the makeup if it’s not your thing. Realize that everyone’s preferences on what is aesthetically pleasing can differ dramatically, so don’t hold others to your own.

The Weekend Five: TV Couples Who Should Have Ended Up Together

TV Couples Who Should Have Ended Up TogetherA pop culture junkie through and through, I can’t help but have some strong opinions about the television shows I have watched over the years. From universally hated finales to unhealthy relationship pairings, even our favorite TV shows will disappoint us from time to time.

This week, we’ll talk about the ones that got away – the TV couples who should have been together when the series ended. Feel free to add your own favorites in the comments section below!

The Weekend Five: TV Couples Who Should Have Ended Up Together

1. Dan and Blair (Gossip Girl)
Throughout Gossip Girl, both Dan and Blair experience their share of relationships. The Upper East Side’s Queen B begins the series in a long-term relationship with golden boy Nate Archibald, falls into an emotional on/off affair with bad boy Chuck Bass over several seasons, and even marries the Prince of Monaco. Dan, a writer and outsider from Brooklyn, falls for socialite Serena van der Woodsen (Blair’s sometimes-best friend), briefly dates Hilary Duff and begins to raise a child he soon learns is not his. Let’s face it: these characters have a lot going on.

At the start of the series, Dan and Blair come from very different worlds and have nothing but disdain for one another, but as the seasons wear on, we learn that the two actually have a lot of common interests and chemistry of their own. They form a very close friendship that eventually evolves into a brief relationship, but the writers quickly force a breakup because the two characters were never supposed to be endgame material. Blair ends up with the emotionally and physically abusive Chuck (who once traded her for a hotel), while Dan ends up with the aimless Serena. Moral of the show? Shared interests and the ability to have real conversations with another person are nothing compared to rocky relationships with emotionally unavailable people! (“Dair” was pretty great while it lasted, though, and it definitely made the show a lot more interesting.)

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2. Shawn and Angela (Boy Meets World)
Many of us grew up watching Boy Meets World and wanting the idyllic Cory/Topanga relationship, but to me, the more interesting couple was always Shawn and Angela. Shawn, Cory’s best friend, had a rough family life and difficulty staying in a relationship longer than two weeks. Angela was the first girl he really committed to, dating in high school and college, and his character grew a lot during that relationship. They part ways when she leaves for Europe to be closer to her father (which is a valid reason to leave), but the couple never really gets closure.

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TV Couples Who Should Have Ended Up Together3. Rory and Jess (Gilmore Girls)
First, let me just say that I hated Rory’s Yale boyfriend, Logan. To me, he never really came off as a fantastic boyfriend, and I was happy to see that she breaks things off at the end of the series and leaves for her dream job (a positive portrayal of a young woman who temporarily chooses career over relationship). However, if Rory was meant to be with anyone, it was always Jess, Luke’s nephew. Although a troublemaker who doesn’t always know how to be the best boyfriend, Jess grows in his relationship with Rory and (much like Dan and Blair of Gossip Girl) the two have some very real shared interests. Both experience their highs and lows over the next few seasons, but Jess ultimately grows up, achieves some of his goals and becomes a better version of himself. In some ways, he and Rory are at a much more similar point in their lives by the end of the series. I’d like to think that after Rory fulfills her dream to work with Christiane Amanpour and Jess publishes his next novel, the two settle down and live a happy, drama-free life together.

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4. Jackie and Hyde (That 70’s Show)
I know that everyone is looking back nostalgically at Jackie (Mila Kunis) and Kelso (Ashton Kutcher) because of the actors’ real life engagement/pregnancy, but I always preferred the pairing of Jackie and Hyde. Although an unlikely pair, the two characters work well together on the show and develop considerably throughout the relationship. Things go downhill when Jackie demands an engagement and Hyde marries a stripper, but with the way the show was written, it all felt like a wild misunderstanding that would eventually be resolved. However, the writers never seemed to explore the relationship again, instead bringing Jackie and Fez together in a final season that felt a lot more like fanfiction than the actual show.

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TV Couples Who Should Have Ended Up Together5. Ted and Tracy (How I Met Your Mother)
Yes, readers, I am still mourning this devastating loss! The show How I Met Your Mother, in which Future Ted tells his teenage kids about how he met their mom, opens with the story of how Ted met Robin, a woman he immediately thought was the love of his life. We quickly learn that she is not their mother. Ted and Robin date for a few seasons, but have some fundamental differences that would affect marriage and children in the future, so they eventually split. Over time, we realize that Robin truly is not The One for Ted, and he finally lets her go right before she marries his close friend, Barney. At the wedding, Ted meets the bass player, Tracy, and immediately falls for her. During their conversations, we quickly see how perfect they are for one another – their pronunciations of “Renaissance,” their dorky shared interests, the many ways they unknowingly crossed paths over the years.

The writers do a great job of convincing us that Tracy is Ted’s soul mate, the one who made nine seasons of heartbreak all worth it. Then, after the characters meet, Future Ted reveals that Tracy died and that he’s in love with (now divorced) Robin again. The entire episode felt like a slap in the face and like complete regression of his character (and possibly an April Fool’s joke), but the writers stuck to the ending they had planned years earlier, ultimately disappointing their fans. After all Ted has been through, he deserves his happy ending with Tracy!

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What are some TV couples you think should have ended up together? Do you agree/disagree with any of the above?

The Weekend Five: Alternative Job Choices

sean-lowe-300Tomorrow I will embark on the first day of my career, and I am extremely excited to begin working full-time in a job that relates closely to my Bachelor’s degree. In the past, I have discussed my earlier struggles with selecting an undergraduate major and career path, but when I talked about the roads I didn’t take (psychologist/teacher/journalist/anthropologist/etc.), I may have left a few out! 🙂

This week’s post will dive further into some of those alternative career choices I decided to forgo, some of which may even inspire you! Feel free to include your own in the comments section below.

The Weekend Five: Alternative Job Choices

1. Camera crew member for The Bachelor.
I love to work behind the camera – why not transfer that passion to the small screen? As a camera crew member on The Bachelor, my main purpose would be to film pensive scenes of the bachelor du jour as he skips rocks across a nearby lake, runs on a treadmill and watches the sunset while hoping to meet his future wife. I would also have the opportunity to interview women with too much Botox as they simultaneously complain about other women in the house and pine for a man with whom they have been on two group dates. It’s just like high school all over again (minus the Botox)!

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2. The Bachelorette.
After spending sufficient time behind the scenes of The Bachelor, I could easily get my foot in the door for my own chance at “love” on national television by becoming The Bachelorette.  Not only would I have access to unlimited evening dresses, but I would be able to discuss superficial topics with guys from all over the country while we fly in a helicopter over some beautiful canyon or glacier. If anything, this job would allow me to put my passport to good use!

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thrift-shop-macklemore-ryan-lewis-onesie3. Macklemore’s personal shopper.
Imagine getting paid to run around through thrift stores and pick out quirky, vintage clothing and accessories. Wouldn’t you feel pretty “pumped up” about the situation? I would have so much fun sifting through garments and putting together crazy outfit combinations so that Mackemore could go and get some compliments.

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4. Voice recording for 1-800 numbers.
For some strange reason, I really enjoy talking in a somewhat robotic telephone voice. I can still imitate the automated phone messages that my high school used to send my parents if my sister or I were marked absent in any of our classes. If that isn’t reason enough to hire me for this type of position, then I don’t know what is.

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5. A “source” for the tabloids.
I always wonder who these “sources” really are, and why they would spill secrets to the tabloids if they were really the celebrity’s “friend.” Although I don’t keep up with celebrity gossip in the way that I used to, I still occasionally will peek at the trashy magazines in the grocery stores. Every time I read a quote from a “source,” however, I take their words with a grain of salt because that unnamed source could be anybody: the garbageman who drives by the celebrity’s house twice a week, the waitress that served the celebrity once, some guy who has the same last name as the celebrity… So really, if anyone can do it, why can’t I? It would be like a fun exercise in fiction writing, and perhaps a stepping stone to my eventual career as an author. 😉

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What are some of your weird “alternative” jobs?

Appealingly Quirky: How Much Is ‘Too Much’?

Move over, Pop Princesses: it’s time to make room for the Queens of Quirk. America has always been fascinated by its share of quirky leading ladies and heroines (think Lucille Ball, Audrey Hepburn, and Amelie), but in the past few years, eccentricity has become all the rage. Hilary Duff may be a mere tabloid figure these days, but every entertainment magazine I pick up seems to flaunt Zooey Deschanel as the new It Girl. Ladies, say hello to babydoll dresses, funky headbands and Bambi eyes.

As someone who enjoys wearing dresses, listening to The Smiths and deconstructing seemingly trashy television, I should appreciate this trend. After all, doesn’t it make room for people like me, people who sometimes stray from the beaten path and occasionally align themselves with some of the misfits? The answer to that question isn’t as simple as it may seem.

On the surface, the quirkiness craze allows us to broaden our acceptance of what’s “cool.” (Tweet this!) Young women are, in theory, valued for deviating slightly from the norm, creating their own fashion statements, and listening to music that is either (a) from a different generation; (b) not played on the radio; or (c) both of the above. Supporters of the Quirky Girl frenzy might even argue that this trend encourages us to be unique and unafraid to show our non-cookie-cutter side.

Of course, when we examine this further, we find that there are a few things wrong with our arguments. First of all, “quirky” ceases to be truly quirky when it becomes a trend. If every girl dresses like a 1950’s housewife and gets the same haircut, she is no longer “deviating from the norm,” as suggested earlier. Quirks are defined as individual peculiarities of character, and so, by definition, cannot be included as  part of a trend — they belong to the individual! However, the “Quirky Girl” trope tends to follow a few pre-defined quirks, which are not necessarily natural to the girl who displays them.

And let’s face it — most guys who say they’re attracted to “quirky girls” are not actually attracted to them in the Dictionary.com sense of the word. They’re attracted to quirky girls in the same way that many girls are attracted to nerdy guys (a.k.a. good-looking guys who happen to wear glasses and admit to occasionally reading for fun). Guys who claim they’re into the quirky girls are mostly just looking for pretty girls who use Instagram too much, own a vintage bathing suit and occasionally trip over things. The truly quirky girls who don’t fit the (ironic) stereotype aren’t in as high of demand as the Zooey Deschanels of the world.

I’m not trying to say that one lifestyle is better than another — I think that as long as you’re not hurting anyone, you should do whatever makes you comfortable! (I will admit that I was listening to a mix of Regina Spektor and Perry Como as I wrote this, thus fulfilling the pseudo-quirky role I wrote about earlier.) However, I urge you to choose your clothes, music and interests because you like them, not because of the pressure to like them. If some of your likes aren’t particularly offbeat, it’s not the end of the world.

The Friday Five: Television’s Most Notorious Villains

All our lives, we have heard stories of good versus evil — not just in our childhood books of fairy tales and our adolescent superhero comic books, but also in our contemporary literature, our favorite films and of course our must-watch television shows. This week, we will explore the darker side of some of today’s hit TV series and the villains who wreak havoc for our beloved heroes.

The Friday Five: Television’s Most Notorious Villains

1. The Evil Queen/Regina from Once Upon A Time.
Pictured left, the Evil Queen is the epitome of villainous. On this thrilling fairy tale TV show, in which all of our beloved (and not so beloved) fairy tale characters have been transferred into our world and have forgotten their former lives, the Evil Queen (known in our world as Mayor Regina Mills) does everything she can to manipulate others and maintain power. As the Queen, tricks a lovesick genie into assassinating her husband, takes advantage of a “heartless” huntsman, and kills her own father in order to curse the entire Enchanted Forest. Meanwhile, as her real world counterpart Regina, she schemes against those who pose a threat to her title, meddles in the relationships of the various characters, and uses magic to murder the town Sheriff (who rejected her in favor of her arch-nemesis, Emma Swan).

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2. James Woods from Family Guy.
Note: I am not talking about the actor, James Woods, but rather the character he voices on TV. Although Quahog, the town in which Family Guy takes place, has named quite a few of its landmarks after him, Woods is known to cause trouble every time he comes to town. Whether he’s stealing Peter’s identity or ruining Brian’s television show concept, James Woods is crude, selfish and just plain mean — which always leads to excellent television! Even after a previous episode killed the character off, James Woods has returned and will likely appear in future episodes, creating the same kind of mischief he is usually known for.

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3. Lemon Breeland from Hart of Dixie.
The seemingly perfect Southern Belle, Lemon may consider herself sweet as pie, but she usually comes across as demanding and conniving. Lemon obsesses over wedding plans and ruling the town of Bluebell, Alabama, in every society group imaginable, often ignoring her own fiance (the handsome lawyer George Tucker) and bullying the new-girl-in-town, Dr. Zoe Hart. From hazing Zoe in an initiation process to forbidding her friends from getting pregnant until she does, Lemon is known for becoming unhinged, especially when she doesn’t get what she wants. Although the show tries to show a more sympathetic side through flashbacks and emotional scenes, Lemon is usually portrayed as difficult to get along with, unauthentic, dramatic and completely unlikable. Don’t let the floral dresses and affected speech fool you — her ‘Mean Girls’ style makes her just as villainous as the rest of them!

4. The Situation from Jersey Shore.
Mike Sorrentino, better known as “The Situation,” has always prided himself on being a tough guy. However, throughout the multiple seasons of Jersey Shore (about five too many!), he has established several different roles and characters for himself. He has briefly been the sweetheart, when he seemed to genuinely have feelings for Sammi in the first season, and he often refers to himself as more of a father figure to the rest of the house, particularly in the second season. Mike has also revealed a more somber side, especially toward the end of his days in Italy, during which he separated himself from the group and lamented the fact that no one liked him. The Situation is known to become violent and manipulative, and often threatens in the confessionals that his evil side is about to come out. Always looking for trouble to stir up, The Situation and his multiple personalities could top this list as all five TV villains.

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5. Courtney from The Bachelor.
Perhaps my greatest inspiration for writing this post, Courtney is constantly in the middle of feuds with the rest of the girls (although, to be honest, who can blame her? They’re all competing for the same man’s affections), hogging attention with Ben the Bachelor on group dates, and saying things on confessional like “I want to rip her head off and verbally assault her.” This is the only season of The Bachelor that I have actually sat down to watch, but from the very beginning it was easy to see that she was going to be around for a long time. Why? Her presence in the house provides the perfect drama for serious viewers who believe that the show is actually about true love. After all, how could Ben not see through her crazy eyes and the fact that the other girls are so concerned about her behavior? Personally, I love seeing Courtney stick around, because it means we get to see her say or do something else that’s completely insane.

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Who are your favorite TV villains?

The Friday Five: ANTM Contestants

Those of you who read my blog regularly know that I’m a reality TV junkie. I could justify my viewership by saying that I watch the shows for the social commentary, but that wouldn’t be entirely true — as much as I love a good discussion about the underlying themes of reality television, I also love indulging in the guilty pleasure of watching something completely mindless and ridiculous and fun. For example, I’m not exactly an aspiring model, but I have certainly wasted weekends watching America’s Next Top Model marathons.

After years of careful viewing, of course, I’ve started to group the contestants into categories. These categories are even more apparent in this season’s all-star cycle, in which Tyra Banks brings back contestants from past cycles to compete for some epic challenge that escapes my memory. This week, I will report my Top Model findings, which I’ve gotten down to a science. (Feel free to add your own in the comments section below!)

The Friday Five: ANTM Contestants

1. The Girl Who Rests on “Pretty.”
While most of the other contestants have particularly unusual bone structure, this girl is generally the prom queen all grown up, the girl whose looks most viewers would kill for. No matter how proficient she is in modeling, however, she is usually criticized for being “too commercial” and being appropriate only for catalog. This girl may progress somewhat throughout the competition, but she never wins; Tyra & Co. will be sure to dismiss her because of her traditional beauty, but they will claim to do so because they find her too complacent and unadventurous in her film.

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2. The Real Girl.
(Not to be confused with this kind of Real Girl.) The drama in the house usually originates with this girl. The Real Girl tells it like it is, and while some people find her funny and candid, others butt heads with her early on. As the ANTM-equivalent of The Situation, the Real Girl drives the show’s ratings because of the catty arguments she gets into and the occasional hair-pulling that ultimately ensues. She usually dismisses other members of the house as “fake” and declares herself to be one of the few “real” (if not the only) contestants left.

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3. The Sweet Southern Girl.
In contrast to the Real Girl, the Sweet Southern Girl means no harm. There’s a fight in the house? She’ll climb up to the top bunk and watch quietly from afar, thank you very much. This girl generally has no enemies and gains a lot of fan favoritism, but her drama-free demeanor usually keeps her from the prize.

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4. The Quirky Girl.
The Quirky Girl can come in all shapes and sizes, but modeling isn’t usually her first choice of career. Almost always, she has worked behind the camera before, but she usually has a variety of other interests that will completely creep out the other contestants. (Just think of Broken Baby Doll Allison and her hobby of painting people with nosebleeds!) Nevertheless, this girl usually manages to avoid a lot of the drama in the house as well and usually captures our interest for at least a few episodes. A subcategory of Quirky Girl is Androgynous Girl, a trait that Tyra constantly claims to value but usually doesn’t keep around in the competition for long.

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5. The Girl With A Platform.
The Girl With A Platform may come into the competition wanting to become a high fashion model and build her portfolio, but she has another goal in mind as well — raise awareness of a social or health issue so that viewers will notice. Sometimes the girls are edited this way, but Tyra is a sucker for a Girl With A Platform and will keep her around for as long as possible (regardless of total performance in the competition). Whether this girl differentiates herself by her weight, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status or other trait she believes defines her, viewers will constantly see her in the confessionals talking about how much the trait impacts her life.

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What categories of contestants do you often notice on America’s Next Top Model?

Why TV Does Not Glamorize Teen Pregnancy

As many of my readers know, I’m a bit of a reality TV junkie. While I miss the music videos on MTV as much as the next person, I have made do with the wide variety of reality shows the station has to offer (even some of the more embarrassing ones, like Jersey Shore, which has become my guilty pleasure!).

And yes, I will admit, I watch the teen pregnancy shows. Because the original cast of 16 and Pregnant featured girls my age, I thought it was interesting to see how having children affected them and think about how different my life would have been if I had made different choices. Over the years, I kept up with them as they graduated to Teen Mom, and while it isn’t the most groundbreaking show on television, I still thought it was intriguing to see how their lives turned out.

In the time since the shows first began to air, 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom have received a lot of criticism throughout the nation. Many people suggest that such programming only glamorizes teen pregnancy and encourages teenagers to have unprotected sex so that they can have the fairy-tale endings they see on TV.

When I hear this, I have to ask: do these critics actually watch the show? Every week when the show airs, the four girls all have to deal with very serious issues: custody battles, financial problems, difficulty balancing school and work and raising a child, decisions relating to adoption, etc. Not one of the girls has it all completely together. Even Maci, who seems to have adjusted the most to teen motherhood, has been in and out of court with her son’s father, and her schoolwork has suffered so that she could care for Bentley. Meanwhile, Amber Portwood endures postpartum depression early on, and faces legal issues of her own.

Maybe it’s just me, but none of those scenarios sound particularly appealing. When I watch a show like this, it makes me think of how lucky I am not to be in the situation myself. Although I am not knocking motherhood and or trying to disrespect teen mothers, I do think that the show demonstrates very well that being a parent is hard. Being a parent when you’re only sixteen, seventeen, eighteen years old is even harder. I never doubted that, but when I watch this kind of thing on television, I see challenges I might never have even thought of.

To make matters worse, some of these girls have also had to deal with the pressures of fame on top of teen parenthood. Their every moves are documented in the latest issues of OK! and Us Weekly magazine, and people across the country are judging their actions. Yes, they chose to be on television, but I doubt if any of them expected to have gained celebrity status so quickly.

The show might give some of these girls a leg up in their future careers, but it has never depicted their lives as easy or perfect. Any viewer with half a brain will see the many difficulties the cast faces, and realize that nothing about the show ever promotes teen pregnancy or makes it seem particularly desirable. When I watch shows like Teen Mom, I am thankful for the decisions I have made, and I know that if I were to get pregnant at even twenty years old, the road ahead would not be an easy one.

What do you think about these types of shows?