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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The Inconsistency Between ‘Respect’ and Religion

It was the beginning of April in 2013, a month away from my graduation thesis show. I plopped on the floor of my small but recently cleared out art studio at school as I stared at the large Gordon Paper I had tacked onto one of the walls. I got up, took a pen, and wrote ‘Respect’ in the middle of the intimidating brown space. I stared at it, sat back down, and stared some more.

Earlier that year I had recently completed Richard Dawkins’ “The God Delusion” and could not be stopped from bringing it up in mundane conversation. While I’m sure I annoyed many, religion became, and has been, paramount in my life. Not my adherence to a religion but my own removal from one.

It wasn’t that I had been taught something foreign to me and became fascinated. It was that every question and every doubt I had about the role of religion in my life and environment, became validated by a single piece of literature. I had to get it out.

In speaking of my newly found passion with friends and family, I came to realize that the conversation on religion always ended with one similar sentiment by those I spoke with: “You just need to respect others beliefs.”

But what was I saying that had anything to do with respect?

Frustrated by the way those conversations ended, I couldn’t stop wondering what people meant. Respect? Respect what exactly? What does that mean? Is it an action? An emotional stance?

While to many the answers to those questions may seem obvious,  I’d like to challenge that notion.

I couldn’t shake that word: Respect. I wanted a conversation about the role of religion in the social world, not advice on how I should personally deal with it.

Many of us, if not all, were taught that ‘respect’ is a sort of “live and let live” mantra which to live by. “You do you and I do me”. Therefore, on the superficial level, I was being told to “you need to……” What?!

I need to do what?! I need to hold esteem or regard for those beliefs? That is, after all, the definition of ‘respect’. To admire, hold regard, or esteem for someone or something. That’s when it hit me! Once you attempt to interchange the word ‘respect’ for one of its available synonyms, its imagined meaning completely changes. Here are some examples:

Therefore, when being told to ‘respect’ religious faiths, I was expected to have a sort of positive attitude towards those beliefs in spite of my own. And while I understand what is being said, it, in its entirety, dismisses and disregards what religion is.

I could go through the sociological approach towards outlining how, by its very premise, religion is not based on a “you and me” social relationship. Rather, it is an “us and them” situation. Religion, for much that one could look to argue for its spiritual value, is organized. There are places of worship, doctrines, hierarchies, and conflicting ideologies and interpretations. But there is enough literature out there by intellectuals to complete the task.

But because of horrific events occurring world wide with the rise of Islamic terrorism, I believe there is no better time to put into perspective what ‘respect’ means when we attempt to unwrap religion. Therefore, I will use Islam in my approach but will further expand with the Christian-Catholic faith.

The Orlando shooting last weekend, once more, stirred up the political conversation as to the role of Islam in the world. Whether or not it was the shooters motivator, it became part of the conversation.

On one side, there are the Islamophobic, anti-immigrant, and xenophobic. On the other, there are those that do not equate Islamic terrorism to Islam. Those that adhere to ISIS or Al Qaeda are a tiny, insignificant portion of the 1.6 billion Muslims around the world.

Because the former attitude has gained mainstream status, the latter has come out in an attempt to point out that a small portion of something, does not make it everything. And while this is true, it does not make the latter all the better.

The liberal media and moderate Muslims in the West have come out in defense of their religion with fervor and passion. The phrase “It is a religion of peace” is often espoused by Muslims and liberals that speak out against those that look to demonize the religion. These are, more than not, Muslims that have become somewhat westernized and liberals who seem to want to pacify the debate on religion. And while they should do this, there is discrepancy between the used defense and the actual practice of Islam in Islamic based nations.

By basing the debate of the nature of Islam on terrorism, the conversation completely disregards the social and political practices of Islam. And while we should all be vocally against terrorism, we not need to agree with the religion itself in order to do so. As moderate Muslims put it, Islam is not about terrorism. But, I along with others say, Islam does not coincide with liberal, or even secular, thought either.

Now, this is not about demonizing Islam or feeding the Islamophobic, anti-immigration, xenophobic rhetoric. It is about accepting that there are absolute contradicting values between Islamic nations and their traditions, and the practice of separation of church and state in Europe and the United States, for example. The latter, isn’t even necessarily a liberal practice. It is a basic secular practice to ensure democracy within a State. A democratic principle that allows Muslims to practice their faith with the liberty to decide how to do so. A democratic principle which many Muslims around the world are afforded, BUT not most.

There are only a few outspoken Muslim activists who make this distinction, and even they suffer for it.

The problem with ‘democracy’ as understood by the West, is that it cannot be translated to many eastern countries. The world learned its lesson when the United States “wanted to bring democracy” to Afghanistan by the way of invasion only causing more social and political destabilization. When has imperialism ever brought about peace?

The Pew Research Center has found that most Muslims, in nations where Islam is the dominating religion, in fact want Sharia Law to be enacted. That means the law of the land should be based on the religious doctrine of Islam; the divine law within the Quran. That means that both private and public life should be guided and led by the faith.

Some of these nations and their support for sharia law are:  Afghanistan (99%), Iraq (91%), Niger (86%), Malaysia (86%), Pakistan (84%), Morocco (83%), Bangladesh (82%), Egypt (74%), Indonesia (72%), Jordan (71%), Uganda (66%), Ethiopia (65%), Mali (63%), Ghana (58%), and Tunisia (56%).

While the practice of Sharia law varies within each nation, most Muslim countries make use of it in one way or another and their people are in favour of it.

Afghanistan, for example, legally enacts capital punishment for apostasy, purdah (segregation) on women, and imprisonment for homosexuality.

What does this mean? That the Pew Research Center uncovered how most Muslims in these nations approve of the state of affairs within their own countries.

In circling back to my concern with ‘respect’ and religion, do I really have to ask?

When I’m told that I must respect ones faith, I am not being told to respect a type of spirituality. I am being told that I need to respect social values and practices that go along with it. That I should respect values and practices which go against those that have been afforded to me. That I should respect values and practices of which I am not just opposed to, but which I’ve been both socially and intellectually taught to view as negative. Values and practices which have been statistically and scientifically proven to be detrimental to society as a whole.

BUT because these are religiously based, I am not allowed to say so.

Which takes me to my general point: Because I can understand a religion, does not mean I have to respect it.

Just to emphasize that I am not being bias, I have the same problem with the religion I myself grew up with; the christian-catholic faith.

While it has been found that Mexican Catholics are in a high opposition with the church, they are still morally and socially molded by their interpretation of the faith. With 81% of Mexicans identifying as catholic, women’s sexual health, including abortion, remains a heated debate nation wide, very much like, if not more so, the United States.

Unfortunately, Mexico City is the only place which fully grants women the right to abortions (under 12 weeks only) without being subject to a penalty. All while, in another 18 states, they could be subject to penalization. In the worst of cases, up to 30 years of imprisonment.

With epidemic-like rates of teen pregnancy and domestic abuse in poverty stricken communities, along the incompetence to provide proper sexual education and resources by the public education system, I cannot respect the faith based belief that women should not have access to an abortion clinic. Let alone, be punished for it. The social and economic impact of high rates of teen pregnancy in poverty, when they have not even concluded their secondary level education, is not only detrimental to them, but society as a whole.

Not only are women affected by the Catholic faith, but homosexuals are still viewed as morally corrupt by 55% of Mexicans.

It is one thing to ‘respect’ or “let live” another’s beliefs when they do not infringe on the basic rights and freedoms of others. When they do not intend to endanger one specific demographic. When they do not look to put one citizen or believer above another based on their adherence to the doctrine. If as an adult you still believe in Santa, that’s your prerogative. I’ll think your nuts and won’t respect it but, unless you harm someone for it, I don’t see the problem. I haven’t even touched the miracle/mystical side of religion.

But it is another thing entirely to ask me to respect beliefs that do those things.

I cannot respect a faith which does not respect those that leave it, but rather kills them for it. I cannot respect a faith that does not respect a women’s body, but rather asks her to cover it as a sign of ‘modesty’. I cannot respect a faith which does not respect women’s ability to control their health and ability to choose their future, but rather forces them to a life defined by one sperm and one egg. I cannot respect a faith  which does not respect an entire community’s nature, but rather asks for the restriction of their civil rights. I cannot respect a faith that would limit my own ability to have control over the direction of my life.

 

“So with all due respect”, I cannot, nor will I, respect that as it is in my absolute freedom to do so.

 

*For those curious as to my resulting artwork: my endevour to challenge the word ‘respect’ resulted in an installation where I represented in list significant events from the 20th and 21st Centuries in where literature had been burned for ideological or political reasons. From Harry Potter to the Christian Bible, I documented the process in which I recreated the act, cataloged the book covers, and jarred and planted the ashes in potted Hydrangea.

 

 

 

 

 

Why Support a Woman’s Right to Choose

I often find pro-life posts on my Facebook News Feed. It’s not surprising to me since I come from a highly catholic and conservative environment, while I myself am a lapsed one. This is a response to the rhetoric I find coming from that environment.

  1. The God factor: Often people will use religion as a reason as to why they oppose abortion. The language goes from something like, “The sanctity of life” to “Man is not God.” The problem with this argument is that man creates man. Whether you believe in God or not, we as biological-rational beings, choose (or not, but do) to make more of us. People choose to have children, or people have sex which results in a child. We are conscious of this. We know unprotected sex (can) = child. It’s science, biology, the fact of life and how animal in general multiplies. Therefore, to say that it was God’s doing, well…sure, but that would mean that man then, is not responsible for reproducing, which we are and we are aware of this. There’s no immaculate conception, and if you believe this happens, you’ve got bigger problems. Therefore, abortion is much of man’s decision as it to procreate. We are responsible for who we put on Earth. Which takes me to my next point.
  2. Shouldn’t be doing it if not ready: Yes, teenagers are not ready to be parents. Some adults are not ready to be parents. But guess what. It happens. It’s biology, hormones, and the way the world works. Never in the history of humanity has the repression of sex worked. To use this as an argument is to live in la-la land. Furthermore, this argument belittles the realities of the social world. Low income communities with lack of resources to sexual education and contraceptives, are the ones that suffer the most. This is also in part the government’s doing when there is maldistribution of resources, particularly for women in vulnerable domestic situations. To place full on responsability over the shoulders of a young girl from a low-income household where she could possibly have suffered abuse from a relative (which is statistically the probability), is, to me, offensive, insane, and detrimental to the well being of not only her, but society as a whole. She, herself, probably didn’t choose her own situation and she should not be punished because of it. It’s easy to place the blame on women and call them murderers. First, it’s a two way street; takes two to tango. Second, having a child is a serious responsibility. Forgive me, but I rather have a child spared the possibility of terrible life than have them be subjected to situations they didn’t choose themselves. The situation is much larger than a one night discrepancy. It’s called reality. This takes me to my next argument…
  3. They are being selfish, the child didn’t have a say: Well, children don’t ask to be conceived either. The people having them do (or don’t). I’m also sure, the child won’t choose their name, their education, their religion, their family, their nationality, their family’s income, their clothing, their government, their food, and basically anything else, until much later. If a woman, or couple, doesn’t believe that bringing up a child is the right thing for that child, or them, they shouldn’t have to. There’s many young women who have unplanned pregnancies and decide that it is simply not the right thing for anyone. Maybe she doesn’t have money, she was abused, she didn’t have the proper education, “god-forbid” she’s 14; the reasons don’t really matter and they shouldn’t have to be in horrible situations to have to argue why it is the right thing for them. When you have the child, you are responsible for that child’s survival. It’s serious business. If someone doesn’t want to raise someone else, they shouldn’t be coerced into it and neither should the child. There’s enough abandoned and abused kids in the world.

Lastly and more importantly, women deserve a safe environment where they are able to discuss their options without secrecy or fear of being personally attacked or judged. Making abortion clinics inaccessible and pushing stigma over the issue does not deter abortions as a whole. THIS IS A FACT. For example, after a Texas law restricting clinic abortions was pushed, clinics have started to receive calls from women looking for tips as to how to have a home abortion. This devastating fact has actually caused Texan home abortions to rise dramatically. This is unsafe for women, psychologically devastating and simply…terrible. They are forced to do something that no one woman actually wants to go through. No one in fact wants an abortion, but they choose to because, to them, it is their best option as they see it. Furthermore, especially in highly religious and conservative communities, women will often secretly try to find information through people and online, often fearing the social stigma that comes along with it. They are shamed into pretending nothing is occurring and don’t look for the proper support they need in a time such as this one. Pushing stigma and fear on women for the sake of an ideology is far more harmful to that woman than anything else that can or could happen in a situation where they are considering to take this route.

When people support a woman’s right to choose, it’s not that we are supporting death. We support the choice of rationality over ideology and freedom over coercion. We support the choice of safety over danger and comfort over authority. We support education and resources when needed, not an idea. We support the choice of a bright future no matter what the decision. That is what we are supporting.

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

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.