the beauty in differentiation

at age ten,
a weasel-faced blonde boy calls you fat
because you consistently get
better grades than him
& insists a brown girl doesn’t belong
at a school with (superior) white kids.
you quip that you live in
a nicer neighborhood than his,
but the real reason you’re better than him
is that he’ll always be a covetous jerk.

at age twelve,
a freckled ginger boy scrubs your arms
with a pool brush after swim practice
& claims that he thought the white splotches
(of sunburn) on your dark skin was dirt.
you shove him into the pool
& watch him sputter,
coughing water in surprise.
your coach’s punishment is that
you have to swim extra (victory) laps.

at age fourteen,
a thin brunette girl snidely snickers,
“you’re not pretty. you’re cute like hello kitty.”
you weren’t allowed to wear makeup
or dress like her eighteen-year-old sister.
after braces straighten your crooked teeth
& your only growth spurt sheds baby fat,
you decline her offer to be friends —
even then, you’d rather be alone than have
catty friends you didn’t like (& vice-versa).

at age sixteen,
(until almost a decade following)
a parade of basic white guys marvel
over the fact that you’re the first Asian girl
they’ve admired who defies stereotypes —
you’ve inherited your mother’s feistiness
& your father’s no bullshit attitude.
though your temperament mellows over the years,
you loudly continue to refuse to be fetishized
& mock white guys who should check their privilege.

at age twenty-three,
your handsome ivorian friend becomes more.
you’ll never look like models in magazines,
but you’ve learned to appreciate that
your black hair is unruly
& your skin’s base tone is deep tan.
the ways that you look different
no longer (solely) define you.
he knows all of you & loves you
because of (not in spite of) it.

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none of this is for you

men cannot dictate
how we (women)
style our hair
choose outfits
or apply makeup.
many assume that
we only exist to be
aesthetically pleasing
(to them)
& are shocked when
we explain that
none of this is for you
& we could care less
if you don’t think
we’re beautiful
because we know we are.

The reclamation of beauty

When I was four years old,
I drew (fair-skinned) mermaids
with huge breasts & light hair
that flowed down to their tiny waists.
The mermaids’ faces never looked like mine —
their eyes were larger (& not almond-shaped),
their noses were smaller (& pointed),
their mouths were fuller (& bright pink).
Every night, I’d pray that the next morning,
I’d wake up transformed into Ariel,
a beautiful (white) mermaid.

When I was fourteen years old,
I watched Gilmore girls obsessively.
While I could relate to Lane (Rory’s Korean best friend)
she never considered herself pretty,
nor was she sought after by cute boys
(the measure of a teenage girl’s beauty & self-worth).
Her first (unrequited) love was music &
her failed attempts at dating were a repetitive punchline.
The sarcastic brown girl was always the funny foil
to the doe-eyed protagonist with a porcelain complexion.
I wasn’t the heroine in my own life.

When I was twenty-four years old,
I lifted my chin defiantly & looked in the mirror.
My eyes were dark brown (& almond shaped)
my nose was wide (& round)
my mouth was small (& pale pink).
I’d never be a tall, restrained, universally liked queen,
since I was a short, loud, unapologetically honest woman.
There was a newfound freedom (& power) in being myself.
I (finally) recognized that when
my handsome man said, “You’re beautiful.”
it was the truth.

“There are starving children in Manila. Finish your food.”

“There are starving children in Manila. Finish your food.”

This refrain was repeated throughout childhood. At an early age, my siblings and I learned that regardless of the amount or type of food that was on your plate, you ate it. No questions asked. Kids who wasted food were rude — repugnant, even. Our friends were judged for being picky eaters.

It’s no surprise that the three of us have had weight issues at different stages of our lives. After years of hearing “clean your plate,” learning moderation was (and still is, at times) difficult. Even now, my mother is a relentless food pusher.

“I’m trying to eat healthier.”

“So? You can have ice cream. Then you can just run later.”

“I would rather just skip dessert.”

“Just listen to me, I know what I’m talking about.”

Except, my mother doesn’t know (about this, or anything she hasn’t actually experienced).

In elementary school, I was the chubby kid on the country club swim team. To say that the kind of girls who lived in that neighborhood were cruel shallow bitches would be an understatement.

“What size do you wear?” Maddie asked as I wrapped a towel around myself after practice.

“Why do you want to know?” I quickly packed up my tote bag.

“So I never let myself go like that.” She followed me to the parking lot.

“I have a slower metabolism than you do.” Don’t let her see you cry.

“Maybe you should lay off the fatty foods, then.” She flipped her hair and sneered.

We were eleven years old. I waited until I bolted out of my mother’s car and into my room before crying and eating a stack of Chips Ahoy cookies. I found solace in food and books. Though my mother insisted I was beautiful as I was, she added that I’d outgrow my chubbiness. I did in middle school, but eating my feelings was a habit that persisted.

Now, I’m unlearning the association that only wasteful assholes don’t clean their plates. I’ll never be a waif, but I’m working on being healthier. I’m not perfect and I’m okay with that.

Four reasons you should watch The Mindy Project

Some people have dismissed The Mindy Project as a silly romantic comedy show. While it can be, at times, it’s so much more than that. There are a million reasons why you should watch it, but I’ll give you four main ones for the sake of brevity. There’s over a month until the season two premiere, so there’s plenty of time to catch up on season one.

Four reasons you should watch The Mindy Project

1. Mindy Kaling’s titular Dr. Mindy Lahiri a badass (yet flawed and relatable) woman of color.

People of color are underrepresented in the media. Too often, a person of color’s character is shunted into a stereotypical role, so the character serves as the token supporting character in an ensemble show. Other times, that character plays as a perfect hero/heroine — a symbol of the peaceful movement to overcome oppression or the like. This isn’t the case with The Mindy Project.

Though Dr. Mindy Lahiri is a badass OB/GYN and an awesome friend, she’s also oblivious and (generally) has terrible taste in men. She drinks too much and doesn’t exercise enough. She admits that her body type ranges from “chubby” to “curvy.” She watches too much reality TV and meddles in her friends’ (and coworkers’) lives. She isn’t a flawless saint who represents every woman of color. She’s a relatable woman who makes all women feel better about not having it together 100% of the time.

2. The realistic portrayal of healthy female friendships.

One of the TV/movie tropes that I hate most is that “women are catty and can’t be friends.” While I’ve met women who demonstrate this, my female friends and I are truly like sisters. We protect and confide in each other. We don’t have secret resentments, talk shit, or plot to steal each other’s men. Though Bridesmaids attempted to be a female buddy comedy, it focused a lot of Annie and Helen’s rivalry for Lillian’s friendship. The Mindy Project doesn’t do this.

The Mindy Project portrays healthy female friendships that are like the ones I have with my friends. Mindy and Gwen are the ethnically reversed version of Andrea and me. Mindy, Gwen, and the rest of their friends actually enjoy hanging out together. They’re not passive aggressive, jealous rivals. They don’t just talk about their relationships; they help each other with legitimate problems.

3.  Mindy is half of an interracial couple throughout the show.

Some people complain that there are way too many basic-looking white guys on this show. I agree, but Mindy Kaling (and Mindy Lahiri) digs that type of guy. No one questions why a white woman who plays a lead in a show would be primarily dating white guys, so I don’t think that criticism should be leveraged against The Mindy Project, either.

I don’t think that Mindy Kaling thinks white guys are the best men; that’s just her preference. It’s refreshing to watch a show that doesn’t make this an issue. I doubt that there will be an Indian guy who will turn out to be Mindy Lahiri’s soul mate, just because he’s Indian (another trope that I hate). Still, the show addresses the difficulties that come with being in a relationship where both people are have different occupations, backgrounds, and religions.

4. *Spoiler alert* Mindy and Danny’s begrudging professional relationship that evolves into something more.

I’m a sucker for drawn-out romantic developments on TV shows. At the beginning of the show, Mindy and Danny are coworkers who are diametrically opposed in almost every way possible. After being forced to work together, they reluctantly start to respect each other. They eventually become friends and their bickering becomes affectionate.

Danny is the guy that Mindy never saw coming. They have other love interests, but their chemistry is what keeps a lot of fans (myself included) watching. It’s possible that they will turn into Jack and Liz from 30 Rock. Regardless, it will be interesting to see how their non-relationship continues to evolve next season.

Go watch The Mindy Project, already! Are there any shows that you don’t think enough people are watching?

Your former nemesis

It’s one of those days
you can’t escape
self-loathing
(your former nemesis).
In front of a mirror,
you tug your tanktop
and pinch your sides.
It’s one of those days
you try, but fail
to remember that
(you are not your weight)
you are beautiful.

Three deadly sins

I. Wrath

When Brie was diagnosed with autism, I became her defender. I was an aggressive crusader against people who said “retarded” or “retard” in a derogatory way (or ever, really).

Tenth grade was the height of my belligerence. On a bus ride after a marching band competition, an obnoxious drummer was impersonating a boy with Downs Syndrome from a rival band.

“I’m a reeetaaaard.” He kept repeating as he intentionally tripped down the bus aisle.

I tapped him on the shoulder and slapped him across the face as he turned around.

“What gives you the right to make fun of that boy?! You’re pathetic — making fun of a kid who can’t defend himself.”

“Damn — I was just joking, Sam.”

“Did it ever occur to you that he’s someone’s brother? Or maybe, that I’ve got a sister who’s in special ed? Or that other people do, too?”

“No it didn’t. Shit. I’m sorry.”

II. Envy

When you’re a former chubby girl, it’s hard to overcome body image issues even after you’ve lost weight. Most days, I believed what I saw in the mirror and in photos. Every once in awhile, old insecurities crept into the back of my mind.

Andrea is lovely. She has long eyelashes and brown hair. Her favorite food groups are cheese and bacon, but she’s naturally slim. She’s also one of the smartest and quirkiest people I know. We’ve been The Ridiculous for over a decade, so it’s uncertain whether we react to things similarly because we’ve been best friends so long, or if that’s why we became friends in the first place.

In college, there were times when guys (acquaintances, not friends or romantic prospects) would say,

“Your friend’s hot. Hook me up?”

I would laugh. “You wouldn’t stand a chance.”

Yet self-loathing mantras of days past persisted.

Your best friend is hot. You’re the funny, sassy one. Why would someone ever think you’re pretty?

III. Pride

When I was in middle school, there was no one more insufferable to have as a classmate than me. I went to a small Catholic school in Birmingham with less than fifty kids per grade (from preschool to eighth grade). I was the Filipino Hermione Granger from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and due to the size of the school, most people knew it.

In eighth grade, my group of friends was constantly getting dragged into the guidance counselor’s office because of another group of girls. Our group was comprised of overachievers. We won the spelling and geography bees. We had the highest test scores. We genuinely liked and got along with our teachers.

The other group was comprised of the girls who were wearing full makeup in sixth grade. By eighth grade, they either were or knew people who were partying with their older siblings who went to the Catholic high school. The situation was a Taylor Swift song personified.

The other group’s queen bee and I would get into emailing wars. We accused each other of talking shit. Finally, our homeroom teachers staged an intervention, Mean Girls style. We gathered in a circle and each girl aired her grievances. Tears were shed. Everyone got along (for the moment).

Still, I couldn’t help but chuckle to myself because the queen bee claimed that our group was put on a podium, not a pedestal.