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.

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“Nobody would watch a movie about kids workin’ on a farm who fall in love!”

“This is the slowest lunch place ever.” I glanced at my watch, noting that Mike and I had been waiting for our food for fifteen minutes.

“I thought we’d get our orders quicker by getting ’em to-go, but I guess not.”

Mike took a seat at a table by the window. I followed suit.

“What do you and your wife have planned for this weekend?”

“Just gonna do stuff around the house and fix up the barn. She might have a horse show, but she’s not sure yet.”

“How did y’all meet?”

“Well, we knew each other growin’ up ‘cuz we lived in a real small town in Washington state.”

“Were y’all the pair of kindergartners that everyone knew would be together?”

“Not at all. We actually didn’t get to be close ’til I went away to college up at Stanford. Summer before my senior year, I came home and worked on her uncle’s wheat farm with her.”

“A wheat farm?!”

“Wheat farming is big out there.”

“This is like the plot of a Lifetime movie.”

“Nobody would watch a movie about kids workin’ on a farm who fall in love!”

“They definitely would. Especially if they cast the actors from Nashville.”

“Maybe people would watch for the scenery. It’s beautiful — the sky’s clear out there. Not like here (in town, at least) where you can barely see the stars after dark.”

“What would be on the soundtrack — Fleetwood Mac? Led Zeppelin?”

“All the other classics, too.” Mike laughed. “Y’know, she was actually seein’ somebody else when we started hangin’ out.”

“Oh shit! You stole her away?”

“She didn’t like that other guy much anyway.”

“Still.”

“She’s always been a firecracker. Never puts up with anybody’s shit (in a good way).”

“Sounds like she and Dusty’s wife would be friends.”

“They definitely would. We had a low-key wedding at the end of the summer. Her mom made her dress. Her friends did the flowers and mine helped cook the food for the reception.”

“Wow.”

“Then I went back to school for my senior year and the rest is history!”

“Seriously, though. Which actors would you want to play y’all in the movie of your life?”

“Hell if we know any of the young actors these days!”

Three speeches I would’ve made for closure (if it existed)

(Zero)
Closure doesn’t exist. I don’t believe in it. No one really gets closure when a friendship or relationship ends. People grow up and apart. There’s no particular catalyst that sets off the dissolution. Fondness fades into apathy. Relationships in which people become ambivalent tend to disintegrate slowly over time.

People purposely hurt each other and don’t take responsibility for doing so. They become passive or blatantly aggressive. They play emotional chicken, baiting (daring) each other to break it off first. Toxic relationships tend to fall apart as they began — abruptly. I don’t believe in closure, but if I did, there are three speeches I would’ve made to obtain it.

One
I wouldn’t have survived senior year of high school without you. Neither of us belonged in Alpharetta. We had aspirations beyond suburbia. You sketched and painted. I wrote. Our goal was to get the hell out. You were the smartest girl in our class and my closest friend. Instead of going to keggers with classmates, we spent weekends watching foreign films and listening to indie music.

Though you went to college up north, we would have long phone calls a few times each semester. We hung out during Thanksgiving and winter breaks. During one phone call, you nervously told me you were queer. I didn’t think of you any differently after that. But if I had to pinpoint it, that was when you stopped returning calls or texts as much.

You posted articles about gender being a social construct and the need for LGBTQ safe spaces without heteronormative influence on Facebook. When I called you by your name, you explained that you wanted to be called a male name and be referred to with male pronouns. I did so without a second thought.

The last time we had lunch was a few summers ago. We went to one of the few decent sushi places in Alpharetta. You had just started working for as an LGBTQ advocate, focusing on teens and young adults. Your work was inspiring. I realized that I’d never be able to empathize with you about the struggle you went through in discovering your gender identity. I’d always be part of your past, when you hadn’t figured it out yet.

Thank you for being a great friend when I needed one. I wish we still hung out. I hope you’ve found happiness and fulfillment (or at least closer to it now).

Two
I’m not sure why, but even though I hadn’t spoken to you in five years, you insisted that I was your best friend. You’re the antithesis of everything a woman should look for in a man. When a woman sees you, she should immediately run in the other direction. My friends referred to men like you by your name — you became a common noun synonymous with the worst kind of douchebag.

You knew me best when we rode the same school bus to high school. I was triumphant. After you teased me throughout elementary school, you recognized I was better than you — in academics, besides math and science, and as a person because I was sympathetic to a fault, while you were oblivious to a fault. Yet, every time you would date someone new, you would talk to and hang out with me more. Your mother would harass you when I wouldn’t stop by because you would inevitably fall to the wayside without my guidance.

The last straw was when you expected me to sleep with you when we weren’t together. As if that wasn’t insulting enough, you were still dating your jailbait girlfriend. It was a disgusting plan (even for you). Cutting you off was one of the wisest decisions I ever made. Talking to you just to hear your pathetic apologies was hilarious. It was equally hilarious to discover that you haven’t changed a bit.

Thank you for being the biggest asshole I’ve ever met. I kicked you out of my life for good and everything fell into place. You were the archetype for everything I didn’t need. In being that point of reference, I found the man who is everything that I could ever want and need. I hope you never change, for entertainment’s sake.

Three
You were a two-faced redneck bitch. I knew that when Ames and I met you, but I was naïve. I didn’t trust my gut as much in my younger years. As I’ve gotten older, I discovered that my first impressions of people are usually correct (for better or worse).

You were a fun party friend we met through a mutual acquaintance (your boyfriend at the time), but we ended up hanging out aside from partying. Then we found out that you talked a lot shit — about us. You blamed us for any time you cheated on him or got blackout drunk. You lied to him and said you were on the pill, in hopes of getting pregnant. You were the trailer trash cliché of a woman trying to entrap a man by having his baby.

Thank you for reminding me to always trust my instincts. You inadvertently introduced us to one of our other friends — his ex. I hope to see you on Maury one day.

I used to believe that my mother and I were like the Gilmore girls.

I used to believe that my mother and I were like the Gilmore girls.

As with most kids, puberty wasn’t particularly easy for me. Angst and self-loathing plagued my middle school existence. In order to combat this, my mother and I talked constantly. She gave me formative talks on how to have self-esteem as a chubby kidthe importance of family, why religion is essential to being a good person, and how sex ruins an unmarried girl. I absorbed every word.

At the time, my mother and I were each other’s sounding boards. She discussed fights with my dad; I psychoanalyzed his motivations. I told her about petty drama at school; she insisted that friends came and went, but family was always there. We watched TV shows and movies together. We were best friends. Like Lorelai and Rory, we consulted each other on every decision. We had inside jokes. I idolized her.

When I met Andrea, I found a kindred spirit in someone my age. During high school, I made more friends of my own. My mother lashed out. She couldn’t understand why I would want to spend time with people who weren’t family. She didn’t comprehend why she wasn’t the only friend I needed.

By the time I got to college, I recognized that I had to escape this unhealthy codependency. It wasn’t fair for her to confide in me as a friend (about her and my dad’s marital woes) one moment and in the next moment, snap into mother mode, trying to dictate my every move. She always claimed she was psychic — that she would know when I was being disobedient. College proved that when I didn’t tell her anything, she had nothing to zone in on. She couldn’t interrogate me so that I’d crack and “confess.”

Though I’m the most stable and happiest I’ve ever been, my mother is always angry at me. She belittles every choice I’ve made without her. I’m the biggest disappointment of her life. These days, I’m like Lorelai (the supposed rebel) and she’s like Emily (the bourgeoisie housewife who insists that her daughter should have the best, which is her life).

We used to be like Lorelai and Rory, but I’m thankful that we haven’t been for years. It’s impossible to be friends (much less best friends) with your mother when she refuses to acknowledge you’ve grown up. It’s unlikely to get better until she realizes that we can have a relationship as adults. One day, I hope she understands that trying to control your daughter’s life isn’t the same as wanting what’s best for her.

Knowing how stubborn my mother is, though, I’m not holding my breath.

I used to write Harry Potter fanfiction.

I used to write Harry Potter fanfiction (also known as fics).

Even before that, I wrote hilariously bad Gilmore girls fics. In my defense, it was middle school. I knew nothing about keeping characters’ voices true to themselves or what high schoolers’ lives were actually like. Rory Gilmore’s world was as foreign to me as Harry Potter’s. Despite encouraging reviews, I took the Gilmore girls fics down from my fanfiction.net profile.

I’ve always been an enthusiastic fangirl. During my Gilmore girls phase, I had a wall in my bedroom with magazine pages featuring the cast and a giant collage I made. While I began reading the Harry Potter books in fourth grade, I didn’t start writing fics until high school.

Oftentimes, fans write fics in anticipation of the next installment of a series (to predict what’s going to happen next) or to rewrite moments they found to be unsatisfactory. Typically, I wrote fics for the former reason. I never wrote the plot-driven fics; instead, I always focused on the ships I supported. In fandom terms, a “ship” is a relationship that you support (thus making you a shipper).

I wrote my first Harry Potter fic during junior year of high school, before Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince was published. Like many fans, I was (and still am) a Ron and Hermione shipper. At lunch, I brainstormed ideas with my fellow Harry Potter fangirls (and fanboy) friends Gaby, Daniel, and Becca. I ended up writing sixteen chapters and over 65,000 words. Almost a decade later, people are still reviewing the fic and adding it to their favorites.

Any time I get discouraged about writing, I remind myself of two things:

  1. I wrote a silly Ron/Hermione fic in high school that got 854 reviews.
  2. If E.L. James could get published by rewriting a Twilight fic as Fifty Shades of Grey, I will get published by writing an awesome original book.

“It’s not a story. It’s your life.”

College was a strange but exhilarating time for me, as it is for many kids with strict parents.

Freshman year, I met Ames. We quickly bonded over a love of emo music and the fact that we were nerds who weren’t socially awkward. Ames’s parents own a house on the east side of Athens, where we lived from sophomore year until we graduated. We named the house Odessa, after the Texas town featured on the awesomely bad show Heroes. Even after we stopped watching Heroes, we continued to call the house Odessa.

Ames and I often joked that we weren’t just roommates, we were soul mates (and thus dubbed ourselves “rolemates.” Though, other friends also called us the Odessans.). We made midnight Kroger runs, because it was a pain to shop for groceries at any other time. We threw awesome parties. We got matching tattoos. (I have it on my right shoulder blade, while she has it on her hip. But that’s a story for another day.) We cooked and drank together. Most importantly, we helped each other through the trials and tribulations of our college lives.

Eighteen years of repression from overbearing Filipino parents has two possible effects: you’re either conditioned forever to seek your parents’ approval in everything you do or you slowly start to live for yourself. I did the latter. After leading a sheltered existence, I wanted to have crazy tales to tell.

After graduation, I worked in LA for six months. While I was in LA, we had weekly Skype video chats. As always, we texted everyday. The following January, I boomeranged back to Georgia. That summer, I visited Ames. We sat on the Odessa back porch, drinking wine and talking. So much had changed — we changed — yet our bond stayed the same. We’ve continued to have our “real talks,” when we hash out issues and offer (sometimes bluntly) honest advice.

“It’s weird, Ames.”

“What is, Sam?”

“I wanted so badly to get out of the South, but when I did, I realized it’s home. I’m glad to be back.”

“I’m glad you’re back, too.”

“Though, there were some epic stories from living in LA. I doubt anything as exciting will happen now that I’m in Georgia.”

“It’s not a story. It’s your life. Cali was just one chapter. Plus, it doesn’t matter if what you do is ‘story worthy,’ as long as you’re happy.”

Since then, I’ve mellowed. I don’t do things just to add to my archive of shenanigans. Ames and I don’t party like we did in our college years. We’re responsible adults. Still, we’ll always be rolemates — part of the family that we’ve chosen.

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?