My Face: When I look in the mirror

I’ve only written once about my personal experiences in terms of self-perception and body image. I dedicated it to my parents as an ode to them for what they’ve done for me. But this time around I thought I’d share a bit about what it actually feels to be me.

My experiences may seem in one way unique but I believe they transcend specificity and may have an affect on anyone that has, at any point, looked at themselves in the mirror and asked: is that really what I look like?

Everyday, I wake up, drink two cups of coffee while I watch the news, put on my gym clothes, and enjoy an hour of working out. Working out no only makes me happy, but confident. It’s something I’ve been working on for a while. As a self-admitted low self esteem girl, working out has done wonders for me.

I like my body. I eat well and feel good (despite my smoking) .

But while I am able to mold one thing, there’s another I cannot.

As a way to practice my guitar skills (or lack there of) I like to film myself and play it back. It allows me to see what I am doing wrong both on the guitar and vocally.

As I was just doing it now, I realized why I had not done it in a while.

Forget the guitar, forget the bad singing; I don’t like what I see. Who is that person? I don’t recognize her.

Out of my experiences from having had so much surgery and physical change, there is one thing that has had, and may always have, a strange and unfamiliar effect on me.

My face.

My face is not equilateral. This is due to my hemifacial microsomia.   This means that one side looks one way,  and the other looks another way. Anyone that knows me, knows this. I’m used to it. It’s part of me. It’s broken me. Made me. Completed me.

But what no one knows is that, because of it, reflections actually switch on me.

And that FUCKING sucks.

You know that thing where if your shirt says something, it switches when reflected on a mirror?

That, to me, is my face.

Imagine being used to your face looking one way; as reflected on a mirror. You’ve practiced talking, moving, even singing, in front of it. But then, you see yourself on a camera, or a photo, and the reflection has switched on you.

You don’t move like yourself. Your smile is crooked.  Your eyes are lopsided. One side of your face is stiff. And you can’t match the voice to the person presented. Everything seems out of place.

Well, that’s what happens to me.

When I look in the mirror; I see one thing. But when filmed or photographed, I see another.

What I’ve practiced and looked at for my 26 years of life becomes a deception when I am able to see through another’s eyes.

It’s not that I don’t like being filmed or photographed. It’s that the person that will live in that documentation is not recognizable to me. It’s about changing the whole composition of my face and how I perceive it. It’s about more than a trick of the camera. It’s a trick on myself.

I’ll admit something.

I work hard on my self  presentation. I do what I can to make my body look good. I use my style savvy to look confident and exceptional. I use my brain as a way to distract others from my insecurities. I love clothes as a form of self expression and use them to make myself look as good as I am able to feel.

But these are also masks. Masks to push back the fear of that reflection. The reflection I am so scared of confronting now and again. One I don’t recognize. One that reminds me that what I see, may not necessarily be what others see. It’s not a simple “love yourself” issue. It’s a trick of the brain that haunts me now and again whenever I see my self reflection.

But, hopefully, one I’ll eventually accept.

 

 

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Feminism: Mexico’s Dirty Word

Actress Emma Watson sat down to interview Pakistani activist, Malala Yousafzai, about her recent documentary, “He Named Me Malala”. During the interview, both women, activists for equal rights of women, discussed the misrepresentations often placed on the word feminism. Malala explained to Watson how she initially was uneasy about adopting the label of ‘feminist’ due to the negative connotations that often trail it’s meaning. As they discussed the term, Watson was moved to learn that it was her speech at the United Nations about her work with HeforShe which made Malala reconsider her association to the word. Watson was the reason as to why Malala now refers to herself as a feminist. But the activist’s uneasiness towards the term ‘feminist’ is not out of the ordinary.

Mexicans know the term machismo well. Recently, in conversation with friends, it was expressed that they view both labels as extremists. But that, there, is the problem. It is a misunderstanding to pit both words, machismo and feminism, against each other. It is important to not confuse these terms as antonyms. Machismo has as a definition: the flaunting of what is masculine and domination over women. The term reflects a patriarchal history where women have suffered second class citizenship. It reflects statistics that demonstrate inequalities with employment, homemaking decisions, income, sexual and emotional abuse. It is a term which describes an ingrained character within our culture based on antiquated and tired social rules. Feminism is not its opposite but its end.

Feminism is not the domination of man, but its equalizer. Feminism is not a dirty word, but an eraser of a past in which women has systematically feared making choices for themselves. Choices which encompass her home life, her finances, her opinions, and her body. Simply put: feminism is the advocacy for women’s equal rights to man on the political, the financial, and social.

The importance of making clear what this term, feminism, means, is a responsibility towards the wellbeing of our communities. As women we must not fear the term itself, but our uneasy attitude towards its misinterpretations. Being a feminist is not going against man, but along with him. Being a feminist is not shutting up man, but communicating with him. Being a feminist is not raising arms and entering a war of the sexes. Being a feminist is the belief that as human, you deserve the same rights that are given to man.

The Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía (INEGI), published statistics in 2008, which demonstrate the gender disparities in the various public and private sectors of the state of Nuevo Leon. In their publication, they express:

“El desarrollo humano de un país no puede alcanzarse si no se tiene en cuenta a la mitad de la población, es decir, a las mujeres.”

A country’s human development cannot unfold itself you do not take half of the population insto account. That’s to say, women.

“La discriminación, la violencia y la amenaza de la violencia que padecen las mujeres por el hecho de serlo, en prácticamente todos los ámbitos de sus vidas, las frenan en el desarrollo de sus capacidades, inhiben el ejercicio de sus libertades y, en consecuencia, se violentan sus derechos fundamentales. Atender la discriminación y la violencia en la entidad es un imperativo urgente si se quieren alcanzar mejores niveles de desarrollo que abarquen el ejercicio de la ciudadanía plena de las mujeres.”
The discrimination, the violence, and the threat of violence which women suffer for being women, in practically in every aspect of their lives, stops in its tracks their development of their capacities. They hold back the practice of their liberties and, consequently, violate their fundamental rights. Attending to the discrimination and violation is an urgent imperative if we want to reach the best levels of development of women’s full practice of citizenship.

Personally, I have women in my life whom have succeeded in an incomparable way to our predecessors. I am a feminist because my mother has, for 35 years, owned her own business. I am a feminist because I have a sister who is an architect and another one who is a fashion designer. I am a feminist because my father recognizes my place, my voice, and my vote. I’m a feminist because I observe women around me, continually break down barriers which continue to limit our advancement. More importantly, I am a feminist because there are women who live in silence. Women who fear having a voice. Women who continuously feel defeated out of fear of their own survival. Feminism isn’t a dirty word as is machismo. Feminism is our rights.


Watch Emma Watson and Malala’s great interview here

Our Face: My Parents and Me

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Since my last post, I decided I wanted to start bringing in a more personal side of myself to this blog. Since that decision, I have had a hard time deciding how to do it. It involves somewhat unique experiences that have permeated so many areas of my life that choosing where or how to start has been overwhelming. But I have to start somewhere so I’ll start with the toughest part. I’ll begin with the people that made me, my parents. The reason I want to talk publicly about them is because we all have complex relationships with our parents, and that’s okay. Mine has been somewhat unique in that it has in part been based on my own circumstances of having been born with facial deformities. I want to share some of that relationship because the experiences I’ve had of being born that way, are not only mine, but theirs as well. I bring them into this, not only as a way of sharing with you my experiences under the knife, but as a way of expressing that I know my struggles are not my own and that they are constantly there with me.

After having been going to therapy in NY for a while, my parents started questioning the reasons behind it. They questioned the effectiveness since I’d been going for a couple of years and saw no end. In order to ease them on the idea, I invited my mother to come along with me to a session in one of her trips to NY. After having struggled to explain why it was a good thing I was going, my mother confessed something during our session that changed everything for me. She said “We’ve actually been waiting for it.” Meaning, she and my father had been waiting for the day my experiences under the knife would get to me. This not only made me cry, it calmed me.

My mother went on to explain to my therapist that when I was born, my mother told my father that they were going to do anything and everything they had to do to make me feel as normal as possible. That turned into over a dozen of reconstructive surgeries (I don’t actually remember the number now) from ages 5 to 20, travelling miles within the US, meeting some of the US’s most important doctors, weeks or months away from school, having had my mouth wired shut for two months, looking funny with weird apparatuses on my head, awkward interactions with curious strangers, and a lot of confusion about myself. I’ll be honest about something; there was also a lot of anger. Mostly towards my parents.

When I was younger I saw them as the culprit for my experiences. I blamed them not only for who I was but what was, as I saw it, being done to me. We now laugh at some of my childhood behaviour. We talk about how I would hide my mother’s keys to make her late for work or how I would say I hated green eyes (she has green eyes). But by the time I started opening up to my therapist in NY about my experiences in the surgical room, I also began talking about it a little more with my parents. When I was depressed, they were to blame, but when I felt better, they were and are my heroes.

I was often angered by the idea that they wouldn’t let me feel bad about myself. They were there and were supposed to be the ones to understand. But also, they were there. It hadn’t occurred to me how scary it was for them. Of the few memories I have (I’ve blocked out a lot), one of the more intense ones is having woken up from surgery, confused, not being able to move or properly see, and having my father shakenly hold my hand while we both sobbed. Another one is them attempting to blindly screw in a surgical screw in my jaw while a laid on their lap in pain. Another is them watching me frantically squish a fry into my wired-shut mouth out of frustration and hunger. By my twenties these were not my memories anymore but theirs. Mine now involve my experiences with having low self-esteem which continue to affect my everyday behaviour, theirs are the actual events that happened to me. I had dismissed this part.

I often become so self involved in my problems that I dismiss the reasons why they can’t deal with that fact that I have had problems. They dedicated so much of their money, time, and sanity to making me feel as beautiful and normal as possible that I can now understand their struggle. I could say that I am now happy and grateful but it’s still complicated. What I can say is that this journey of mine has made me think twice about how I deal with my situation. Yes, it happened to ME. But it also happened to them. And that is a complex relationship. For more that I have wanted them to accept everything I feel, I also have to accept what they feel. That has been the biggest lesson of having my face. When I started going to therapy, I was angered at the fact that after a while they started disapproving of it. My parents struggle to understand why I have had issues accepting myself but having had that session with my mother made me realize that they struggled too. At 24 I finally got to hear a little bit of their side of the story. It wasn’t easy either. The year after, I found myself rebelling in different ways and, I can now begrudgingly admit, attempting to get their attention through it. It made me feel petty and childish but it was based on this complex relationship I reference. It’s weird to look back at my behaviour and feelings in the past and admit to myself that much of it depended on my relationship to my parents. But this is because what happened to me also happened to them.

Some days I still struggle with myself. But that’s okay too; it’s been a long journey. But I also have to accept that the reason my parent’s struggle with this is because they love me that much. It’s been a journey of accepting that they did everything they could in order to see me be as happy as I can possibly be, while accepting that it came with a price. My parents are my heroes because they make no excuses (I have plenty for us all). While it was difficult for them to put me through the ordeal of surgery, they did it because they love me, period.

Most people in my life don’t know this side of my story. But it is the most important one. I’ve always made it about my emotional struggles and the mistakes I’ve made. But that is for me to overcome. The important part is that I can now step back a bit more everyday and see my experiences as shared experiences. It is not only about me, but about everyone that was with me during those experiences, particularly my parents. I haven’t made it easy on them and that is a fact they’ll appreciate me admitting. Unfortunately it was because they love me that much. I needed someone to blame and so I blamed the people that were there. The people that held my hand. The people that played with me in hotel rooms and called me beautiful. I needed to blame someone and so I blamed the people closest to me. For that I will always be sorry. But it was also because I love them that much.

A Vocabulary Lesson: The Real Meaning of ‘Zorra’

While on two separate dates in Mexico, with different men, they each found a moment in our conversations to point out how a woman they knew was a ‘zorra‘ (meaning slut). Immediately, I was turned off. First off, how is a woman’s sexual history of any interest to me? Second, how is a woman’s sexual history of any interest to them? And thirdly, why are they telling me? I didn’t ask. I’ve never been on a date and have, or even considered, pointing out to a guy and saying “hey, that guy is a slut”. But there is a reason why.

Personally, I don’t care. Life is difficult, relationships are complicated, and your body is yours to decide what to do with it. Sometimes we regret our use of it, but most of time, we own up to our own choices. But this concept of choice does not play similarly between men and women, or even those that straddle the gender binary. In conservative communities, like mine in Mexico, those distinctions are not only harder, but more explicit. There’s use of rhetoric familiar to all of us from there: Zorra (Slut) for women and Mujeriego (Womanizer) for men. The important thing to recognize is that those two terms both have significantly different meanings and significantly different repercussions. Let’s break them down.

Zorra refers to a woman being an easy lay. Mujeriego refers to men as being untrustworthy and promiscuous. From experience, I believe zorra is thrown around more loosely than its counterpart. Men use it; women use it. I’d like to point out that I’ve heard of instances of women I know being called zorra even when they hadn’t even slept with anyone yet. This does not happen with men. A woman’s self respect and integrity is immediately put into question when it becomes known that she has a lot of male friends. This brings up a lot of issues: First, it brings up this issue of whether or not women and men can be around each other in a non-sexual context. If you argue that men always sexualize women and therefore will always think of them as a sexual objects, then that’s one problem. We don’t think of it that way when its one guy with several women. Many actually question the man’s sexuality because of it. Not only that, but as an outdated insult (god forbid you hang around estrogen). Second, what does a woman hanging around men have to do with self-respect? In a way, it actually portrays men negatively. If she is surrounded by them, does it mean she’s putting herself in harm’s way? Pegs the question. And thirdly, being surrounded by the opposite sex does not have to be about sex. To set that label on the situation from the outside actually means that you are responsible for doing so, not the woman. You don’t know what the situation is and by choosing to sexualize it…well, it says more about you than her. 

Firsty, there’s a difference between “an easy lay” and being promiscuous. ‘Easy Lay’ suggests that attempting to have sexual relations with a woman won’t be difficult. Promiscuous implies that a person is often looking for casual sex. But the word ‘easy’ implies that it is up to the man to make it happen. It happens to the woman and she lets it happen; she’s easy (god forbid she may actually want to have sex). By being promiscuous, well, you like casual sex and have a lot of it. True, zorra is also used as a way to describe promiscuous women. But it doesn’t work conversely for men. Therefore, it empowers men and desinfranchises women.

The next thing to look at is their social meanings. Zorra does not only mean that a woman is an easy lay. It means that, again, she has no self-respect. The link society gives between self-respect and sex, I believe, is one of the most catastrophic things  to ever happen to women. When a woman has consensual sex as a single, her integrity as both a woman and person is automatically questioned by both genders. For a mujeriego, he is noted as untrustworthy to women (not men), but, his having sex is not the problem as much as the lying connotation. I’m not saying men don’t suffer stereotyping but the results are different and the social response is damning. “She was supposed to wait for marriage”, “How does she just give it away?”, “No one is going to want her now.” “He’ll cheat on you.”, “He’ll hurt you.”, “He’s a boss.”, “He can get any girl he wants.” Women are viewed as unmarriageable used socks (a comparison abstinence programs actually use!) and men are viewed as untameable by women and heroes by men. This idea of self-respect chastises women and elevates men.

The way we use these words are dramatically different. Both men and woman use zorra to denigrate her person. Her whole being is automatically tarnished. In my experience, calling a man mujeriego is usually in the context of warning a woman about a man she may show interest in. We want to protect her from harm; worse, her reputation. But the problem is, her reputation should not be on the balance on the basis of her personal sex life. Times have changed. No longer do the rules of society keep women from depending on men. We no longer marry at 20 (well, many of us) and we no longer are deprived from joining the workforce. This has dramatically changed sex dynamics. We have had women in the past fight for our place in the world and retaining outdated use of language is not only a disservice to them, but to us.

My experience living in New York as a woman is significantly different from that of Mexico. Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of misogyny here. Women get cat-called constantly, they’re objectified in the work place, and taken advantage of in plenty of social situations. But there’s a difference: I’ve never heard the term ‘slut’ in my social surroundings. I have never heard of a woman being chastised or reprimanded for being sexually active. I have never worried about what the opposite sex thinks or believes about my personal experiences. It doesn’t even cross my mind. Let me be clear: I’m not saying it doesn’t happen to some degree. But the degree in which it occurs in my country is shameful. The institution of traditional marriage is still held very tightly. And that’s fine. But we must adapt the changes that are occurring in society and quit chastising women for changing with the times. Times are changing and holding on to outdated conservative labels causes more harm than good. I’m not attempting to tell anyone when, how, or with whom they should be sleeping with. I’m simply saying that at this day and age, calling a woman a zorra, says more about you than it does about her.