La Vie est Belle and Cancer Sucks

As often happens in your thirties, a lot of my favorite people live in different parts of the country and I don’t get to see them very often. Two such far-flung loved ones were on my mind this weekend as I sat down to watch a new show on ABC Family called Chasing Life.

One of those far away friends lives in California and makes his living as an actor. He was featured on the show, and admittedly my initial impetus for watching was simply to support him as his star continues to rise. The other far away friend lives in Tennessee, and her life has been completely upended by repeat sparring matches with cancer.

For starters, I need to thank M for being the reason I sat down to watch this show in the first place. Second, I need to long-distance-hug G. Because of her, I connected to this show in wholly unexpected ways.

Chasing Life is about a young woman who is blindsided by a diagnosis of leukemia at age twenty-four. The pilot episode introduces us to her and her career as an ambitious, newbie reporter, her newfound love interest, her BFF and her matriarchal family, and just barely, her cancer.

I’ve never watched a show on ABC Family before. The promos I’ve seen for that network often look somewhat cheesy, and I admittedly can be resistant when it comes to schmaltz. But I have zero regrets about the 45 minutes I spent with Chasing Life, and here’s why:

The Bechdel Test: Chasing Life passed right out of the gate with flying colors. The opening scenes were between the protagonist, April, and several men in her sphere (boss, uncle, interview subject – Go, M!), but within the first 12 minutes she’s unapologetically owning the brand of Feminist (which gave me more of a thrill than it probably should’ve in the 21st Century), and shortly thereafter, we’re introduced to her sister, mother, and grandmother, and they all – guess what! – have more to talk about than men. So not only has Chasing Life already won me over with its lady-centric awesomeness, but it’s clever and funny, too.

The world is not white (!): This is TV, so of course everyone has to be gorgeous, but I’m happy to say that everyone is not gorgeous and white. The show was adapted from a Mexican TV series, Terminales, so April and her family have a vague, not-totally-white vibe about them. Moreover, April’s coworker is Indian, her boss is black, her bestie is black (and… Australian? …British? had trouble pinning down the accent), and these characters are all presented without hubbub or commentary. It’s more along the lines of ‘there are people in this story who happen to be people of color’, or as I like to call it, life.

Chasing-Life-620x413

The Carver Family – Chasing Life

Schmaltz is not king: Sure, there was a decent amount of schmaltz. The younger sister is Troubled and winds up Wasted at a Party because of a Guy Who Is Bad For Her. The grandma is Feisty, the mom is a bit Flighty, and the boss is Stern and Demanding. But the schmaltz was outdone by the quality of the writing, the engaging nature of the characters, and an impressively unexpected twist at the end (hint: cancer isn’t the only curveball April will have to navigate).

Women at the helm: Lastly, I learned from M that there are lady writers at the helm of this show, and I learned from the interwebs that these lady writers, Susanna Fogel and Joni Lefkowitz, are also Executive Producers. If you’ve been with us even a short time, you know that Beauty Coup is the champion of quality programming created by women. So to sum up, Chasing Life is winning on many fronts.

Where it hit me in my heart muscle is of course in how much it made me think about G. I don’t know what lies ahead for fictional April and her fictional leukemia, but for several years now I’ve watched the all too real journey of G vs. breast cancer.

If you know someone with cancer, then I don’t need to say any more. If you don’t, take a moment to be thoroughly grateful for that blessing. Then spend some time with G over at her blog, My Left Tit. Witnessing the actual experiences of an actual person dealing with actual cancer is as sobering as it gets. It is also a fire-fueling, rabble-rousing, eye-opener. Even while they live, cancer can rob people of their lives. If Chasing Life gives even a glimpse of that, it will be doing a service to those living with cancer by illuminating the truth of their realities.

***

Chasing Life airs on ABC Family starting June 10th. You can watch the pilot episode early by downloading the ABC Family app.

 

 

Thigh Gap Schmigh Schmap

Hey there, Beauty Coup d’etat Darlings! It’s Friday Feminist Funtimes!

Combing through the bookmarks I’ve made on Potential Blog Topics, I stumbled on this ridiculous phenomenon from last summer. I have two thoughts here.

One: Why would you want your legs to resemble hot dogs?
Two: WHY WOULD YOU WANT YOUR LEGS TO RESEMBLE HOT DOGS??

This icky tumblr is a side-effect of the aggravating Thigh Gap obsession that has been sweeping the Internets for some time. Thigh Gap is also responsible for the obnoxious, twee, red carpet pose known as Pigeon Toed. **No One Stands Like This In Real Life**

Thigh Gap, for the blessedly uninitiated, is when you put your legs together and your thighs don’t touch. Most supermodels have it, and as we know, looking like a supermodel is a completely reasonable and attainable goal for the average woman.

good-luck

Sidebar: if you want to be a supermodel, you better have a Thigh Gap or you are totes fatty fat fat.

Take this Pintrest board, for example. Some of these gals look perfectly healthy and probably always have had/will have that lil’ space between their thighs. Other photos here scream only one word at me: HUNGRY.

Now I’m no stranger to coveting the Gap. When I was a roly-poly 10-year-old, I told my grandma that I was fat. When she asked me why I thought that, I told her that my thighs touched. My older sister was skinny, I explained to grandma, and her thighs didn’t touch. My chubby thighs smooshed right up against each other.

My grandma, one of the best people who has ever lived, turned to my wee, impressionable self and said “Oh darling, that just means when you grow up you’ll have shapely legs, and men will adore them.”

Not only was my grandma an amazing woman who drank whiskey out of teacups, she was totally f*cking right. My legs are kind of incredible, if I may humbly say so myself. They’re a star attraction of my curvy frame. And I have never not once in my entire life had a Thigh Gap. Because the truth is that some bodies are not built for Thigh Gaps. I have a decent dip in my waist, some visible ab muscles (she works hard for the money!), delicate bones, a sizable JLo, and thighs that touch.

Of course I want to start an Anti-Thigh Gap Revolution, involving pictures of sexy thighs that touch. But, curious fact, if you don’t have a Thigh Gap obsession, odds are good you don’t have that many pictures of your thighs. All of my burlesque-era photos are on a different computer, so I’ve done a little improvising.

Here’s me in leggings having just hiked up a mountain in Hawaii. Lookin’ good, thighs that carried me up a mountain!
hike
Here are my thighs right now, today, mere moments ago, in a Classic Thigh Gap (CTG) position. As you can see, gap schmap.
thighs 1
Lastly, here’s the top of my gams with feet on the floor, ankles together – another CTG pose.
thighs 2
Ohmygodyouguys!!! Is that a tiny space I see between my legs?? Is that the floor we’re seeing through an infinitesimal amount of space betwixt one thigh and the other??? OMG GUESS WHAT??

I don’t fucking care.

boo-yah

No Surprises Here

Would we really call this a Reveal? I suppose the fact that it’s a casting director doing the talking sort of makes it news. Sort of. But are any of you surprised that this is the state of things for actresses in Hollywood? If you pay any attention to Hollywood, you probably aren’t surprised. If you’re an actress, I’d say you’re not the least bit surprised.

For our purposes, let’s define Hollywood Unconventional as not thin and/or not crazy gorgeous. For men we’ll call it not built and/or not crazy handsome.

Watch me name some “unconventional” famous actresses off the top of my head: Melissa McCarthy, Rebel Wilson, Frances McDormand… is Rachel Dratch still famous? Um… Octavia Spencer.

For los hombres we have Jonah Hill, Seth Rogan, Hank Azaria, Michael Cera, Woody Harrelson, Barkhad Abdi (newly famous, but he counts), Danny DeVito, Bill Murray, Tom Hanks, Steve Carrell, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Woody Allen, Ben Stiller, Sean Penn, Owen Wilson, John Goodman, Adam Sandler, Hugh Grant…

So this isn’t a scientific test, and you have no way of knowing how long I sat here considering each list. The point is I fizzled out pretty quickly when trying to come up with lady celebs, and each male celeb I thought of reminded me of another.

If you do a Google image search for Actor, sure there are a lot of handsome faces, but there are lots of different types of faces as well (focusing on the men – women pop up under “actor” now and then).

For some curious reason, a Google image search for Actress turns up a lot (A LOT) of Bollywood actresses. I would love to know the analytics for why this happens. So I went with a Google image search for Hollywood Actress. Seriously, I might as well be googling Lingerie-Bikini Model, or quite simply Boobs. Aha! There, waaaaaay toward the bottom of the first page: Meryl Streep. You know what’s unfortunate about that joke Tina told at the Golden Globes? That sh*t is funny because it’s True. The producers of the film ‘Nebraska’ probably cast June Squibb because they couldn’t afford Meryl Streep.

Tina Fey, on Meryl Streep: “(She’s) so brilliant in ‘August: Osage County,’ proving that there are still great roles in Hollywood for Meryl Streeps over 60.”

So, what’s a struggling actress to do? Take a cue from our friends of color – plan to work twice as hard for half as much. If you’re an actress and also a woman of color, I’m afraid you may have to work three times as hard for that half. (Gabourey Sidibe! There’s one more. Lily Tomlin! She isn’t of color but I just thought of her. Two more!)

Essentially every working actor I know will tell you this is part of their career mantra: audition, audition, audition. Like the casting director Ms. Jones contends, if you’re an actress you’ll have to make that mantra: audition, audition, audition, audition, audition, audition, audition, audition, audition. And as an “unconventional” actress who traversed the Tinsel Town Jungle, I can attest that you will find those people who want to hire you because you are talented and you work your ass off, regardless of how you look in lingerie.

OR pull a Mindy Kaling (three more!) and write a hit play that gets enough attention to lead to a job for you on a new TV show that also turns out to be a hit, write a role for yourself on that show, and be so utterly charming and successful that you eventually pitch and sell and star in your own show that only gets funnier with each new episode.

We here at RLB, we believe in you. Break a leg!

your thing

The Myriad Meanings of Mask

Happy All Hallows Eve, RLB readers!

Halloween is a logical time to be thinking about masks, but coincidentally there are two videos that have been floating around the interwebs for the last week or so that also bring the subject to mind. First, the 37-second photoshop video, and second, the baby weeping at the sound of her mother’s singing voice.

It wasn’t immediately apparent to me why these two things were dancing around together in my mind, but then I was struck by the notion of masks.

In the video where a model is photoshopped into an unrecognizable, inhuman barbie creature, the correlation to masks is painfully obvious. So many of the images that we see every day are masked representations of the people they depict. Think about the last 10 pictures you posted on Facebook or Instagram. How many of them had a filter? 10? Me, too. Nowadays we live in a world where we can so easily manipulate images into the best versions of ourselves, our understanding of what’s “real” has morphed into more of an idea than a solid definition.

There are two things that disturb me the most about the photoshop video. 1. When I first watched it, I looked at the still of the woman pre-alteration and wondered what they were going to do to her. To me, she looked like a perfectly lovely, fit woman.

Screen Shot 2013-10-31 at 2.36.26 PMThen I watched her metamorphosis. After seeing her Barbie-fied image, the video popped back to the still of her as she truly is. Suddenly, I had the thought that the real her now looked thick to me. Not fat, per say, but certainly not as fit and pretty as she had been when I first saw her picture. It was such an immediate and visceral example of how easily manipulated we are by the masked images that we are constantly exposed to.

Side Bar: Looking at a mid-point shot, where she’s wearing tons of makeup and hair extensions, but isn’t retouched at all, I can’t help but think, “WHY is this picture not “good enough”?? What about this image isn’t absolutely gorgeous??? Grr. Mad face.

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2. The next thing that hit me happened when I more closely examined the still of the distorted model. I use the word distorted very intentionally, because the longer I looked at her, the more I saw someone who didn’t even look human:

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The curve of her spine and the angle of her torso as it lifts off the ground – it looks like she’s missing several vertebrae. With her head turned, her neck unnaturally lengthened and any ‘unsightly’ skin folds smoothed over, she looks like she’s part ostrich. By shrinking her shoulder and then trimming and lengthening her arm, it looks like she’s using zero effort to prop herself up and may in fact be entirely devoid of any muscles at all. Then there’s the skin glow. What is she, a frakking fairy??

The problem isn’t so much that we manipulate images to enhance certain aspects of ourselves, it’s that the images of people we see in ads and magazines might not even look like people anymore, and because we have been conditioned to do so, those images are now what we think of as real.

***

Next we have the emotional response of little Mary Leroux as her mother sings to her. If you look at the comments being made around the interwebs, there are quite a few people who are upset, disturbed, and even outraged by this video. ‘How dare this mother do this to her child!’ they say, ‘What a torturous thing to do to an innocent baby!’ they rail, shaking their fists at what they perceive to be cruelty.

MASK. n.3 – 2c. a facial expression assumed deliberately to conceal an emotion or give a false impression; an outward appearance which belies a person’s true nature.
(oxford english dictionary)

When I mentioned this wee lass earlier, I used the word weeping, because that’s what I see her doing. She isn’t crying, at least not in the sense that a baby normally cries. She is weeping, because she is moved to tears by her mother’s singing. She smiles a few times, and her face wrenches up with the intensity of what she is feeling. What I see is pure, unadulterated emotion. Sure, maybe there are moments where this kid is sad. Sometimes a thing is so beautiful that it makes us ache with its beauty. Sometimes a thing is so moving, we have no outlet but to weep.

Growing up, most actors are told that we need to contain ourselves. That there is a time and a place for emotion, and that time and place is not polite society. We become actors because on stage and on film it is always the time and place for emotion. The vast, awesome, glorious range of human emotion is something that many people spend their lives trying to discreetly control, or ignore, or run away from. As artists, we run towards it, we dive in. Baby Mary might grow up to be an accountant, but she has the soul of an artist.

DISCLAIMER: This is not to say that people who feel things more quietly or privately are in any way less valid in their emotional experiences. My point is not that there’s a Right Way to feel things, it’s that too often humans are taught to Not Let Themselves feel things. We are encouraged to wear masks to hide who we are, what we truly think and feel. I think so many people had adverse reactions to this weeping child because we are not equipped to recognize even our own truest emotions. 

Before I get off my soap box, the last thing I want to say about masks is that masks can be Fun! It isn’t all ‘hiding who we truly are sadtimes.’ Masks can also be ‘pretending to be someone else funtimes!’ The OED has several additional definitions for mask:

1a. a covering worn on or held in front of the face for disguise, esp.one made of velvet, silk, etc., and concealing the whole face or the upper part of it (except the eyes), worn at balls and masques

1b. theatre. an image of a face worn by an actor

2b. a covering of something (material or immaterial), hiding something else from view.

Por ejemplo:

Makeup and Filter Masks
makeup maskCostume Mask (steampunk!)
costume maskDrag Mask (me) & Burlesque Mask (Amelia)
ps look how smokin’ hot Amelia is! helloooooo, eyebrow arch!
drag maskAnd finally, Mask Mask
Frank: You are in half of my mask photos. It appears you and I are both fans of wearing masks for funsies.
mask maskTo wit: Let’s save the masks for fun and the photoshop for flyaways*. Let’s do all that we can to let ourselves feel all the feelings, and to be everything we truly are.

*and filters, because we can’t resist. we are a culture of filter addicts!

The Most Literal of Shout Outs

Some of you may have seen this by now, but it’s worth another look. If you haven’t seen it yet, just stop everything you’re doing right now (yes, even reading this post), and take a few minutes to have your mind-heart blown.

There were a lot of people posting it around the interwebs this week. When I finally watched it this morning, I was caught off guard. I cried a little. Because it’s so inspiring! But also heartbreaking. And for reals made me want to go eat a cheeseburger and drink a bottle of wine and not think twice about it, preferably over heated, stimulating conversations about art and life and politics and other things I have lots of opinions about. Followed by singing some Joan Jett at karaoke and possibly shouting from some treetops.

This girl is throwing out truth and brilliance and ferocity, and meanwhile there is So Much media trying to force us to all think about Princess Catherine’s abs. Eye roll.

I’m happy for Kate and her genetics, but I for one prefer to honor Ms. Lily Myers by sharing her video while eating a bagel with cream cheese and listening to Fat Bottomed Girls. Seriously, you guys. That is exactly what I am doing right now. And it feels really f*cking good.

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PREACH

Queer Living Beauty

Happy National Coming Out Day, RLB readers! To celebrate, and to honor the wisdom of Harvey Milk, here is a coming out story for you:

Sitting in a cozy courtyard under vast New Mexican skies, I talked easily with my new neighbor, Jeffrey. He charmed me with his deep southern drawl, friendly banter, and countless tattoos. I was already in the throes of a new romance, but single Jeffrey was a catch, and I suggested that I keep an eye out for equally eligible ladies.

He shot me a coy smirk and took a drag of his cigarette.

“Wrong team, darlin’.”

And my love for him was cemented forever. Jeffrey and I are kindred spirits due to our mutual love of Patsy Cline, a shared ability to drink tequila like champions, and because we both unintentionally challenge stereotypical notions of what a queer person looks like.

As a feminine woman married to a beautiful, loving, very heterosexual man, people often draw the reasonable conclusion that I am a heterosexual woman. The truth is that I have dated men, women, and trans men. If you were to line up my romantic partners, the scales would tip quite heavily on the side of women. I can hear you now, thinking, ‘ah, so you’re bisexual.’ It would be easier and probably more comfortable for a lot of people if I snuggled up to that term, but it doesn’t quite hit the mark. I’ve been romantically involved with three genders, and because that’s often the most challenging thing for people to grasp, I make a point of mentioning it every time I come out.

For me it all began the first time I was introduced to androgyny. Even at the wee age of ten (give or take), androgyny was provocative, alluring, and captivating. And androgyny’s name was Jo Polniaczek.

jo

 


If you remember The Facts of Life, 1. You are now humming the theme song and it will be stuck in your head all day. You’re welcome. And 2. You probably remember the moment that Jo first walked into the room and was mistaken for a boy until she took off her motorcycle helmet and changed my life forever.

Strutting around in her plaid shirts and dungarees and casually messy ponytail, making threats and taking names, Jo Polniaczek was the first person to challenge my ingrained notions of a gender binary. At the time, of course, all I knew is that she made me tingly all over.

jo-and-blair-the-facts-of-life

 

….apparently some things never change.

Throughout my adult life I’ve come to realize that gender isn’t the key signifier for what I find attractive. If there is any common denominator, it’s that I am attracted to people who are generally seen as “masculine” on some level, regardless of their gender. Boy, boyish, tomboy, soft butch, butch, trans man, man. These words describe the people I have loved and swooned over. If you need a word to describe my sexuality, trisexual would be the most literal, but that isn’t a word and it only tends to confuse people further. I usually opt for queer.

So there you have it, folks. Out and proud! Silence = Death! We’re here, we’re queer, and we love Jo Polniaczek!

Want a little Coming Out Day fun of your own? Whether you’re LGBTQ or an ally, we are all special unicorns. Let your unicorn flag fly!

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Orange is the New Skinny

There are a few other posts I have in the works (e.g., Women Who Kick Ass on TV) but today I read this article that a friend of mine posted in facebooklandia, and it got me thinking about #5.

Strong is the new skinny.
Fit is the new skinny.

Or the extra bewildering…
Sore is the new skinny.
You can google that one if you want. It’s basically a tumblr of fitspo porn, so I’m skipping the link.

The stand apart here is Healthy is the New Skinny, and we’ll get to why in a minute. If you clicked on all the links, you can probably guess where I’m headed.

First, we’ll acknowledge that Jezebel has already addressed the NY Post article (Strong is the…) and with their usual flair and panache. This is one of their posts that reminds me why I started reading Jezebel in the first place. It isn’t overly snarky or negative; it’s clever and astute and makes succinct, insightful points. The post is summed up with:

Being strong and formidable shouldn’t be approached as a goal that pleases others; being strong and formidable are their own rewards. And women don’t need a “new skinny.” They need to be left the fuck alone and given the space to exist for themselves.

The fundamental truth here is this absurd idea of a ‘new skinny.’ This is a play on words to indicate that skinny was the Old Ideal, which means that whatever word you put in its place (strong, fit, …….sore?) is now the New Ideal.

So far the only group or organization I’ve seen that is using this oh-so-cleverness in any successful way is Healthy is the New Skinny. Call me crazy, but I agree that Healthy, in fact, should be the New Ideal. HNS goes so far as to actually represent a variety of women in a variety of shapes, colors and sizes within their website-blog-modeling agency. Yes, modeling agency. They also have a non-profit body image program, and an HNS shop where you can shop clothes on “more realistic bodies,” because let’s be honest. Even among our thinnest, lithest friends, do we actually know Anyone who is built like Giselle?

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So while I still find the ‘new skinny’ concept to be a bit contentious, if anything is going to replace skinny as an ideal, healthy is what makes the most sense to me. Healthy is something we all can (and probably ought to) strive for. Regardless of height, age, shape, weight (ohmygod I can’t say this enough please let this sink in: REGARDLESS OF WEIGHT), muscle mass, hair color, straightness of teeth, broadness of ribcage, cancer diagnosis* or number of limbs, healthy is attainable. We can all make choices that support, improve, and maintain our health and wellness. These choices are personal, and we need to make them for ourselves, based on what we feel enriches our lives.

This is NOT to say that in ALL CASES healthy = attractive or vice versa.

For example, I would probably be thinner if I was vegan. So many actresses are vegans these days, and the majority of them attribute their svelte figures to their everything-free diet. Good for them! However, there are some skinny-ass vegans who do not look healthy to me. (I suppose some people might find fragile bones and sallow skin attractive?) Me personally? I will never, ever, ever give up cheeseburgers. My body is prone to anemia, and so from time to time it craves a g–damn cheeseburger. Sure, sure, spinach is high in iron, I know. So fine, put some spinach on my cheeseburger.

Example number two: It’s patently ridiculous how many times throughout my life I’ve been told some version of, “you’re a really sexy smoker.” And you know what? In all humility I have to admit – it’s true. I love smoking, and for some reason I look hot when smoking, and mmmmm, yum, cigarettes. BUT, I feel far more beautiful when I’m not smoking, not just because my skin looks much better, but because I don’t wake up with a mouth that tastes like I swallowed an ashtray. And der, smoking ≠ healthy.

So I choose to eat cheeseburgers and not smoke.** These are some of my healthy choices, and they are mine for my reasons. Your choices are yours, and even if our choices are the same, our reasons are probably different. Which brings me to my final support of Healthy as the ‘new skinny’ : Agency. When women make their own healthy choices, and determine what is best for themselves at any given point in their lives, this means women are taking agency over their own bodies, minds, and spirits. Trying to crush that agency is why absurd beauty ideals exist in the first place. It’s one more tool for a patriarchal society to make women feel they are Less Than, and that without this kind of ass, those kinds of boobs, and that kind of face, we are somehow Other.

What we can do is change the conversation to one about what makes us feel beautiful to ourselves. I for one will be eating a cheeseburger tonight.

*just want to ward off anyone who might think that disease makes a person unhealthy. healthy choices are not taken away from you because you are diagnosed with a disease. disease is not by default the result of unhealthy choices.

**…the majority of the time. as a human, I am fallible, but I choose to not smoke most of the time.