White chicks wearing headdresses at music festivals are not racists.

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The issue represented by the title of this post is the one that first alerted me to the concept of cultural appropriation. I read an opinion piece in Maclean’s magazine suggesting that white people wearing headdresses at music festivals are appropriating Native American culture. Since reading that piece, I’ve read a number of other articles on the same topic. Kim and Kylie Kardashian were criticized, one for wearing cornrows and the other for wearing a Yaki ponytail (a hairpiece that, apparently, only black women are supposed to buy). The University of Ottawa cancelled a yoga class because a few people whined about stealing Indian culture. The class is back now, with a new teacher. The new teacher was, amazingly, hired without being told of the controversy surrounding stretching at U of O. When she learned what had happened before she was hired, she worried aloud that she may have been chosen for the position simply because she is Indian and therefore “authentic”. White people should not wear sombreros or put “el” in front of anything that isn’t actually a Spanish word. Iggy Azalea’s guilty of rapping while being white. (Her accuser, Macklemore, expressed this by rapping while being white – but that’s ok, apparently, because his heart is in the right place.) Recently, Justin Bieber caught flak for wearing dreadlocks, because he is not black. Designer Marc Jacobs’ use of dreads on his models during a fashion week show drew angry reactions for the same reason. To add ridiculousness to an already impressively ridiculous list, Kendall Jenner posed for a Vogue ballet-themed photo shoot in a leotard, leg-warmers and pointe shoes – and was promptly accused of appropriating ballet culture, whatever that is. Ballerinas spend so many years perfecting their craft that they feel personally insulted when a rube like Jenner dresses like one of them. Um, what? I’m not even going to try to even with that.

I’ve read a number of opinion pieces on this topic, ranging from mildly disapproving to militantly opposed. Some people are annoyed that white people are taking their traditional hairstyle or clothing or sacred objects lightly – making a fashion statement. Others say it’s ok for white people to do that, as long as they understand the significance of what they are wearing or using and support the culture in which they are dabbling. Others go a little further, annoyed that white people can put on or take off hairstyles, garb and décor without assuming any of the burden of the people who are born into it. An example that is frequently cited is black people with dreads or ‘fros feeling that people look down on them, while white people who adopt these styles are considered cool or edgy, and can still be treated like professionals. Then there are those who say it’s never ok for white people to have hairstyles associated with black people or teach stretching exercises associated with Indians or wear hats associated with Mexicans – white people should be one thing, white (whatever that means), and leave other people’s styles and symbols alone.

Since this is BethBlog and I can say whatever I want, here’s what I think of the whole cultural appropriation flap: Telling people what they can have on their walls or coffee table based on their country of origin is wrong. Telling people they can’t dress a certain way because they’re not a member of a certain ethnic group is wrong. Shutting down a free fitness class for university students because the participants are not of Indian origin is wrong. Telling people that they can’t wear certain hairstyles because they are white is wrong. Even giving a little by saying “ok, white people can wear these hairstyles, but they have to feel really, really, really bad about being white while they wear them” – that’s wrong, too. Insisting that people justify their possessions or fashion choices or personal tastes is wrong. To say otherwise is to say that placing limitations on someone’s freedom is ok if that someone is white – and it’s not ok. Whatever happened to the idea that we should be colour-blind and just let people be who they want to be?  I guess we’re all one world – one race – until we’re not.

I have a map of the world on my wall, framed by flags from every country. Its colour and detail come together to make it a thing of beauty. If I cut out the tiny piece of the map that shows my home, and get rid of all the rest, the map would not be lovely any longer. It would be small and limited, and looking at it would make me feel diminished. In some ways, it feels as if that is what the people screaming “cultural appropriation” want.

I have statues and masks and wall-hangings from Africa, Mexico, the Dominican Republic and Cuba. I have a nesting doll from Ukraine. I have a Mardi Gras mask from New Orleans and wooden shoes from Holland. I have a dream catcher, and a Lakota carving. I have a Chinese lantern commemorating the Year of the Monkey. I have three Navajo blankets. I have a beautiful pashmina my dear friend brought back to me from Istanbul, which I wrap around my shoulders when I’m chilly. I have candle holders and cloth and a wooden box from India. I have a marble box from Pakistan. I have pieces of jewelry that feature the yin yang symbol, and the ankh. I freely add influences from other culinary traditions to the food I prepare (sometimes more than one per dish). Depending on where I’m celebrating my birthday, I might end up wearing a giant sombrero. Why? Because I love these things. They are beautiful, and they enhance my look, my home and my life – they make me feel good. Also, because it isn’t hurting anyone for me to love these things – I’m not stealing from other people’s heritage, I’m enjoying it. In fact, they’re free to enjoy mine – and they do it everyday, in lots of different ways. Most of all, though, because nobody has the right to tell me, based on the colour of my skin, what I can or can’t appreciate, wear, eat, or do. That’s freedom, and it’s for everyone, and there are no contextual conditions.

My inner mean girl needs to get a life – or, at least, let others live theirs.

Nineteen years ago (NINETEEN! YEARS! AGO! Time, time, time.), bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and ready for anything, I stuffed everything I owned into my 323 hatchback and left small-town Newfoundland for college in Nova Scotia. When I got there, the first new thing I encountered was dorm life. The walls of my room were green. But it was readily apparent that they had also been blue, peach and tan at various points in their storied life. The screenless window had a rotting wooden frame that jammed often (probably because all those layers of paint had added an extra quarter-inch to it all ’round). My desk had a homemade Ouija board scorched into it. My mattress was …. well, a dorm room mattress. I tried not to look at the stains while changing the sheets, because I wasn’t emotionally prepared to speculate as to their origin (I’m still not). It didn’t take long for me to make it home, though. A collection of photos on the cork board. One of my grandmother’s patchwork quilts on the bed, and a Beavis and Butthead poster above it.

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A little later, there was a potted cactus on the windowsill and a hamster named Cottonball on the Ouija board. On top of it all, I had discovered the heights of student sophistication: jamming a black taper candle into a Baileys bottle.

Less than six feet away from me, there was a duplicate bed and desk. These belonged to my roommate Amanda*. She had her own hamster, Bandit (whose cage she cleaned once an equinox), and her own purple taper candle in a Baby Duck bottle. She was a long-awaited adopted only child whose parents worshipped the ground she complained on, and she was not easy to live with. Her boyfriend, Darren*, came to visit her every weekend. He drank beer after beer, and threw the caps on the floor. Words can’t express how I adored blindly stepping on those scalloped metal edges on my way out of the room first thing in the morning. At night, while I pretended to sleep, they bumped uglies. Loudly. One night in November, nearing the breaking point, I jumped out of bed, flipped the light on, and started calling their plays like “Paradise by the Dashboard Light”. (Oh, Meatloaf …. You are so delightfully sweaty and meaty and loafy.) Amanda stopped talking to me, and Darren visited less often, after that. At the end of the semester, Amanda flunked everything and dropped out. Though I have not heard from her in years, I like to think she and Darren are still out there, together. Burping the alphabet, perhaps, or supporting each other in their struggle to comprehend the comics in the Saturday paper.

When Amanda left, I had the room to myself, and I kept it that way for the rest of my four college years. I enhanced my living space greatly by acquiring a second hamster and three guinea pigs, which made it smell ever-so-slightly of barn. I took my closet door off its hinges and laid it flat across the two desks, to make room for my computer. As a finishing touch, a loveliness of ladybugs burrowed into my windowsill and fruitfully multiplied until I opened the window (and left it open) in an effort at population control.

So, you can imagine my reaction when I read this blog post about the beautifully decorated dorm rooms at Ole Miss. Apparently, female roomies collaborate and pool their money long before they move in, and they come up with this:

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And this:

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And this:

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(No, the girls don’t come with the décor. But they look like they do, don’t they?)

Their dorm rooms are so beautiful that there’s a competition for most beautiful dorm room. That’s actually a thing. Because money is something I think about alot, the first thing I wondered was how students could possibly come up with the cash. What a waste. How privileged are they, to be able to drop a grand on ottomans and monogrammed wall art? Nothing I’ve ever lived in – or ever will live in – is as pretty as these giant jewelry boxes for young ladies. Wow. Those girls have their ducks in a row – they know what’s really important. They’re making one of the biggest moves of their life, and matching bedspreads is all they can come up with to mark the occasion? Gosh, wonder how booze stains and vomit wash out of faux fur rugs …. Everything about this trend made me want to smack the insipid faces of the little divas posing with their Target haul until they did something ill-bred, like dropping their smug game-show-host smiles for a few seconds.

Then, I wondered how these girls and their pimped-out dorm rooms could make me so stabby. Why did I care what a handful of girls I’ve never met are doing with their dorm rooms I’ll never visit? Why was I being so mean?

For those who read BethBlog regularly (thank you), you’ll know I’m no stranger to nastiness. I snark on people who take and share too many pictures, people who enrol their kids in an overwhelmment (there – I just created a new collective noun) of activities, and people who celebrate holidays in stupid ways. People who shop Black Friday sales like its their last chance to buy anything, ever, just ahead of the cornucopia of Christmas, annoy me. I think people who overthink, overdocument and overshare everything are ridiculous. I find people who curate and present their life as if it were a style mag, self-help book or visual life coach, unbearably snotty. People who spend a disproportionate amount of time daydreaming on Facebook have earned my disdain. As have people who drive minivans, pour too much of themselves into their lawn, and schlep their babies to classes of any kind.

In other words, I’m a seasoned bitch, and I don’t feel the least bit guilty about it. Some things in life simply call for a bitch, need a bitch, and I’m on it. I think alot of people live life in such a ludicrous fashion that they deserve a stink-eye topped with a raised eyebrow, with a side of curled lip – served cold. These girls, though? They’re eighteen and taking pleasure in decorating the room they’ll live in for the better part of a year. What do I expect them to be doing? Solving world conflicts? Ending famines? Stopping climate change in its tracks? And how do I know they’re not doing their part in those struggles, too? Their way of expressing themselves isn’t my way – so I’ve dismissed it as idiotic, and derided it as vapid and valueless. Many women do what I do, over and over. We make fun of women who cook or bake beautifully. Who has time for that? Hello! Pizza delivery exists for a reason. We assume women who are fashionable don’t have anything else to think about. We defiantly wave our dollar-store craft kits in the face of women who make lovely things out of odds and ends, and are bold enough to post a pic. I’ve got better things to do – you must have no life if that’s how you spend your time. And, yes, decorating. It’s ok to have a nice house, but you’d better not have an adorable house. Otherwise, we all know you’ve got throw pillows for brains – and you are clearly a cold fish if your house is clean. You can keep your pristine palace, I’m too busy making memories for that.

Why? Why we feel the need to put each other down over things that don’t affect us? Are we so unhappy with our life that we must take down everyone around us to even the score? Are we focussing so intently on the tall poppy that we forget that we have a garden of our own? Do we not understand that breaking someone else down won’t build us up? We tell our kids to live and let-live. We say “everyone’s different, and that’s ok”, to teach them acceptance of others. Then we rain judgement on others for the crime of having different priorities and executing them with style. If a handful of teenagers making their rooms pretty is all it takes to piss us off (and many a lady rager got her knickers in a twist over this – I’m not the only one), maybe we need to dig deeper for more confidence and contentment.

* No names have been changed because these people have mercifully faded from my life, and I hope never to hear from them again.

 

The Girl Who Cried “Body-Shaming”.

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Maybe it’s because I’m a woman, and therefore the target audience for these news stories and opinion pieces. Maybe it’s because I’m drawn to human interest stories in general, and those that feature women in particular. Maybe my social media filters are not tight enough, or I have the wrong contacts. Maybe, deep down, I simply love a good hate-read. Whatever the case, I have really gotten tired of the concept of body-shaming (or, as some call it, fat-shaming) and the people who whine about it.

Every day, I encounter a new outrage (sometimes more than one). There are no fat leading ladies because society finds fat people repulsive. There are no fat models because designers don’t want to be represented by fat people. Designer X wouldn’t dress Celebrity Y because she is fat and Designer X is a fat-bashing snob. Stores don’t carry clothing in my size because the store owner is embarrassed to have fat customers. Some jerk at the beach looked at me funny because he thinks I should be wearing a mumu instead of a bikini. I feel embarrassed about my girth at the gym in front of all those mirrors, so gyms are fat-shaming enterprises. Airlines are mean because they make fat people pay extra for taking up extra space. Cruise ships are mean because they are reluctant to super-size their deck chairs. Hospitals are mean because they are grousing about having to stretch their already-paper-thin budget to buy special equipment to accommodate fat people. Taxing junk food is discrimination against fat people. Wah, wah, wah.

The latest mention has come courtesy of the Ottawa Citizen. Apparently, the health care system is mistreating obese women who are pregnant, or wish to become so. This is according to a study that includes 24 white, middle-class women in two unnamed mid-size Canadian cities. Excellent methodology, that – sure to lead to reliable conclusions. Two of the examples cited may have a case, in my view. One woman reported that her doctor refused to remove her IUD because she is so fat that pregnancy, for her, would be “a disaster”. Refusing to remove an unnecessary foreign object from a patient’s body is denying care, and her doctor should have done what she requested, while counselling her regarding the potential consequences. Another woman reported that her doctor never examines her internally. A good doctor does his or her due diligence, and internal exams are a required aspect of quality gynecological care. Both of these circumstances merit, at the very least, further investigation.

However, the rest of the complaints discussed in the Citizen article seem to be a matter of ignorance, skewed patient perception, and hyperbole. Women report dreading prenatal appointments, feeling like they are disgusting, or feeling like their doctor thinks they are bad mothers. This is too baseless and vague to properly address, with no anecdotes to back any of it up. How can it be proven, or even investigated, that a woman says she feels like whatever? Two more-concrete claims came from a woman who was refused fertility treatments until she lost 60 pounds, and one who was told that her infertility is caused by her fatness. These two stories make me feel sorry for the women. However, let’s consider the facts …. Obese pregnant women run a higher miscarriage risk. They are more susceptible to high blood pressure and gestational diabetes. Their babies are more likely to have congenital abnormalities. Obese pregnant women are also far more likely to require a caesarean section, because labour and delivery are complicated by extra weight and its attendant health problems. These are important medical issues.

If I tell a pack-a-day smoker he shouldn’t try to run a marathon until he quits smoking and lets his lungs clear out, I’m not trying to crush his dreams or hurt his feelings or make him feel like a bad person – I’m merely trying to protect the fool from pushing his damaged body past its limits into dangerous territory. Doctors who tell fat women they might not be able to conceive in their condition are not trampling on hope. They are giving medical facts to their patients. Doctors who warn fat women of the dangers of pregnancy are not being mean. They are trying to help their patients prepare for the strong possibility that they will face more limitations and problems during their pregnancy and delivery than a woman with a healthy body weight. Doctors who refuse to help fat women become pregnant unless they lose weight are not practicing “soft eugenics”, as ridiculously suggested by the authors of the study. They are giving the woman and her future children a better chance for a healthier outcome. All of these things are a doctor’s job.  If a plumber is called to my house to replace a toilet, and he notices and comments on a leaky sink, he is not pipe-shaming me. He is doing what he is supposed to do as the particular expert I’ve consulted.

This nebulous study, and the attention it has received, is yet another example of the daily hand-wringing I’m done with. The reaction to perceived body-shaming mainly comes in the form of an online rant, with a few well-meaning lines about bodies coming in all different sizes and loving the skin you’re in – and then the accusation of body-shaming. I let you make me feel uncomfortable because I’m sensitive about being fat – so you must be an asshole. The whole situation is painted black and white, and the only side anyone should be on is the side of the so-called victim. It seems that the whole world is out to get fat people. Or is it?

I’m not without sympathy. Some children are mercilessly bullied over their weight. Some people have been treated poorly by the healthcare system and the service industry because they are fat. Extra materials, more complicated patterns and manufacturing processes drive up the cost of plus-sized clothing – and having to pay more for clothing is frustrating. Simple economics: extra weight means extra wear-and-tear on a vehicle, and extra fuel – and buying two seats on an airplane is a hardship many people can’t afford. It must be painful to know that your dream of being a mother or the health of your children may be hampered by your weight. It can be the battle of a lifetime for some people to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight. And on and on …. However, along with the sympathy, it’s time to administer a healthy dose of reality.

Sure, it’s annoying to see that the entertainment industry consists mainly of people who are smaller than you – but, in many cases, famous actresses and singers and models are smaller than most people. It’s not pleasant to hear that a designer refused to dress whoever because her bones don’t protrude. However, we’re talking about a rarified world that reflects very little of our daily existence anyway. That’s why it’s entertainment, not the evening news or a documentary! No intelligent person I know is looking to Hollywood to see a reflection of herself and find the meaning of life. Clothing stores are businesses. What they care about is money. If they don’t carry your size, it’s because it’s not profitable – they don’t need your money badly enough to cater to you. Whining about how mean they are and posting desperate online diatribes begging them to value your business because you are so much more than your dress size will not shame execs into stocking your size. Instead, take your money to a store that will sell you clothing that fits you, and enjoy stepping out in it. Airlines also only care about money. All they see is extra weight = extra fuel = higher expense to fly you somewhere. They don’t want to deal with multiple passengers complaining that their space was partially occupied by someone else’s ass, so they will make make you buy an extra seat. When you protest, they don’t care that you are never going to fly with them again. Everyone else still will, and – if you’re honest – you probably will, too, if their seat sale is juicy enough. As for how people “make you feel”, if you examine the situation in detail, you may find that how you feel has alot to do with your own perception of yourself coupled with the oh-so-human tendency to make everything about ourselves. People are not looking at you all the time – in fact, most of the time they aren’t even thinking about you. Don’t assume that every negative facial expression or action or comment is leveled at you and your weight. By frantically flinging the body-shaming accusation in every possible direction, you’re diverting attention from areas of true concern and helping society build up an immunity to actual cases of body-shaming.

You love yourself? Great! Rock on, and enjoy your life. You don’t love yourself? Change yourself! But please stop this stupid trend of yelling at companies and organizations and the old lady at the pool and the meathead at the gym for not seeing things your way, then claiming fierce love for yourself and complete peace with your circumstances – then making excuses for, and begging us all to look past, the same self you just claimed to adore. It doesn’t wash, and it’s really irritating.