beauty

Mirror, Mirror: Representation In Media

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You guys said that instead of Flash Friday, you wanted to see an essay on something near and dear to my heart. So here ya go, loves. Let me know what you want to see in 2 weeks: flash or an essay?? Think about the last thing you watched on television. Was it a football game? A sitcom? News? Maybe you don't take commercial tv, but prefer Netflix or a similar streaming service. Did you check out the new hotness? Or catch up on an old favorite? Are you thinking about it? That last thing you watched? Now, I have another question for you: did you see yourself there? Were you represented in the show? How about the commercials? Were you there?

Unless you're a cisgendered (your biological sex and your gender match) white hetero able-bodied human with a very specific BMI and body shape, probably not.

Now, there's a very public discussion at the moment about racial diversity in film, what with the Academy Awards nominations coming out with nary a minority to be found. We've talked for years about ethnic roles in adaptations being given to white people, or transgender characters being played by cis (typically white) males. Even in female-centric films, men still have more speaking time.

There's more to diversity than race and gender, to be sure, but right now these are the issues at the fore of the societal conversation. Media--books, television, films, advertisements, toys--all have a problem. The majority of these things do not represent most people.

"Why is it important?" I hear you asking.

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Media is a mirror. It reflects our society's values, tells us what is "good", what is "bad". Media influences our thinking from what brand of cereal to buy this week at the story, to which political candidate we should vote for. Media tells us what is "normal", and what we should be in order to be a working cog in the societal machine.

When you don't see yourself reflected in that mirror, it can be damaging as fuck to a psyche. It makes you question your identity, can leave you feeling adrift and alone with no guidepost or role model. It can make you feel LESS THAN.

It's important to see a black super hero like Falcon, or a Muslim heroine like Kamala Khan, a wheel-chair bound Batgirl like Oracle, or a black Disney princess like Tiana. You want children to believe they can be more, be anything? They need to see that represented in print, on screen and in the toy aisle. They need to see themselves in positive places of power, roles with agency and control. You want a black woman to excel and become president? Show her that she can. You want oppressed people to rise up? Show them it's possible. Hell, Sesame Street understood that in the late '60s and still does!

I was excited as hell after watching one episode of Jessica Jones. Look, I'm 5'11'' and weigh over 250 pounds (thanks PCOS!). I watch an Avengers flick and I don't see myself there. I will never be the agile femme fatale like Black Widow. I'm not a soldier like Maria Hill. Though I adore her, I am too bohemian and coarse to be Peggy Carter. I have no interest in being a power CEO like Pepper Potts, nor can I personally identify with Scarlet Witch.

But Jessica Jones? While she is portrayed as skinnier and way more alcoholic than me, I see myself here. I see myself in her snark, her profanity, her "I don't give a shit if I wear the same pants for a week" mentality. I see myself in her struggle to survive the psychological abuse of Killgrave, her very real PTSD. I watch Jessica Jones and think for a moment, "yeah, I can be that heroine."

I cried when I saw The Force Awakens last month. My daughter and I were sitting beside one another while a woman took up a lightsaber in a franchise that is (historically) terrible for women. My daughter and I were there in that character. Finally. We could be Jedi. (Just for one day.)

Encouraging Stereotypes

Black roles are generally given to sidekicks. Largely they are a token role that could be played by someone white, as their race has little influence on their character. The exception being something that chooses a stereotypical portrayal of a black person, or a historical film that discusses slaves or Moors.

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Asian characters are typically martial arts gurus, fetishized, or both. If neither of the above, you're a computer expert or really good at math.

Indian? Smart character. Socially awkward. Butt of jokes. Or you work in a 7-11. If you're female, you're "exotic".

Latino/Latina? We will not differentiate between Columbian vs Honduran vs Mexican vs Puerto Rican etc and so forth, because that would mean we'd have to learn something. You're the silly friend, the drug lord or John Leguizamo who is both.

Native/Indigenous people? If we mention your race at all (without mistaking you as Latino/Latina), you're sagelike and wise. Or drunk. Or in a historical film and will likely die of cholera, small pox, or an arrow wound.

Fat? You're the plucky, funny best friend with a heart of gold. You are probably Amy Schumer or Melissa McCarthy since Janeane Garafalo go out of the game. But, on the plus side, Mattel has released a series of new Barbies with different body types. Only took 57 years.

In a wheelchair, or otherwise disabled? Yeah, the movie isn't going to be about you, but instead about how brave you are to overcome all obstacles. You can't just be a person, we have to fetishize your disability. LEGO has decided to release mini-figs with wheelchairs, though. 

Gay? You get characters now, but you're going to either share exposure with an ensemble cast, or be a supporting character. We won't focus on you, and if we do we will make it all about your gayness rather than your humanity. You will always be the snarky friend in a rom-com. Sorry.

Then there's erasure to deal with. So many parts of real people are swept under the rug or dismissed, assuming they make it on the screen or page at all.

Bisexuals? Sorry! We're either portrayed as capricious children who can't make up our minds, confused kids jumping on a bandwagon, greedy, or liars. And we'll never be the lead in a rom-com unless the plot is about how we are "forced to choose". We will only ever be object lessons.

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Transgender? You're probably going to be a male-to-female character (because we can understand a woman wanting to become a man, but can't fathom a dude turning in his privilege of his own accord to be female). You may be degenerate, a villain or a laughable parody. Or you're a blatant Oscar grab for a cis male who will be seen as "so brave" for taking such a role.

Non-binary? Good luck. If you exist at all outside of niche media, you will only be background, or you'll be in an indie film starring Tilda Swinton (the goddess of androgyny) and featuring an all Bowie soundtrack.

Mental illness? No, we just need to pop a pill or try harder. Society doesn't talk about mental illness. (I was happy about Silver Linings Playbook being a bit new on this front, but we can do better.) The mentally ill characters in media are deviants, villains or object lessons.

Similarly, the Autistic Spectrum doesn't get much love. You're likely to find someone like Benedict Cumberbatch playing it off ambiguously as part of the ridiculously smart character. However, there is a character on the popular tween cartoon Monster High. Ghoulia Yelps is a "zombie", but she is a positive depiction of a girl on the Spectrum who is still valued by her friends and treated no differently than others.

Polyamory? HA! No. We get "Sister Wives" and "Big Love" bullshit on TLC that is all but mocking plural relationships. Or articles with pictures of people holding hands behind someone else's back, implying that polyamory is adultery by any other name.

 I hate this picture. Never use it again, media. Ever.

I hate this picture. Never use it again, media. Ever.

Not only is the representation in film/books flawed, it also doesn't give an accurate depiction of the world. There are more minorities than the typical blockbuster would have you believe. The reality posited by even television and print media is flawed. Your common news anchors are less racially diverse than the communities they cover. That magazine was photoshopped and otherwise manipulated to the point that we aren't seeing any truth. Reality television isn't. Print ads are distorted.

Make It Your Own.

I know I've got it easier than some by sheer dint of being white and cisgendered. There are certainly more of us in the media than, say, a trans dude, or a black non-binary amputee. But frankly, I've come to a point in my life where I'm fucking exhausted by media telling me I'm not good enough. I'm not the "right" body type. I don't have the "right" kind of job. I'm the "wrong" sexuality. My gender is "less than". I'm tired of trying to find myself in a media that refuses to acknowledge my existence.

 Me. Right now. No filters, make-up. No distortion.

Me. Right now. No filters, make-up. No distortion.

I'm a curvy, bisexual, polyamorous artist who  uses the word "fuck" like it's punctuation. I'm not between sizes or trying to lose weight. I'm not lazy, nor am I unaware of my size and the potential repercussions on my health. (I have a disorder that causes problems with my reproductive and metabolic systems among other things.) I'm "fat", and that doesn't make me less beautiful.

I have one child and lack the desire (and now the ability) to have more. And I'm okay with this. That doesn't make me less of a woman.

I am bisexual and polyamorous. I am attracted to people. I am not capriciously sexual. I find a good, deep conversation more orgasmic than sex. I am not a liar, adulteress or in any way less than ethical.

I am an artist. I don't have a traditional day job. That doesn't mean I can't contribute to society, my family or the world. My joy in being an artist does not make me less worthy.

I'm tired of trying to find myself in the mirror of the media. So I've done a few things about this.

For starters, I write the media I want to see. I write diverse characters who are more than just a race or label. I write them with those things in mind, but the character is more than skin tone or sexual orientation.

Another part of that is being more authentic. Since I stared posting blogs in 2000, I made it a point to be myself. What you see is what you get. While things in my life have changed and I do keep many aspects of my life private, I prefer to be open about who I am. We need authenticity in the world. People need to see reflections of themselves, and know that there are places where their freak flags already fly. I want to be a safe place. I want to be an ally. I want to be real. To that end, I post things like this where you see me. (I mean seriously, how could I post an article about representation in media and not represent myself honestly in my own public space?)

And recently, I've started actively seeking me-friendly media. I know it's out there. I've found poly-friendly webcomics like Kimchi Cuddles, and Twitter accounts that promote bisexual inclusion. I've started collecting images on my Pinterest boards (non-binary thinking/bisexuality/polyamory here, and plus-size here - WARNING, both boards may be NSFW) that represent me, so that on days when I need a mirror, I can find one. On days when I feel "less than" I can remember that I am enough.

You are enough, too.

When popular media includes things like Donald Trump spewing rhetoric against Muslims, Mexicans, blacks, women and more; when echo chambers turn into houses of mirrors that stretch and twist reality, we need diverse media. We need representation. We all need to know that we are enough.

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Like Red, But Not Quite: What I Learned Having Pink Hair for 11 Months

Nov 18 2014So last November I went to a new colorist* who came highly recommended from a friend. I went in figuring that I would get pink highlights in my natural brown hair. When he asked to see pictures, I pulled up my Pinterest board and showed him what I was thinking. "You don't want highlights," he said matter of factly. "You haven't shown me a single picture with highlights. Everything you're showing me is all-over pink. Take the plunge and DO. IT."

So I did. And I've kept it all over pink (with a few tricks at times) since that day 11 months ago. And over that time, I've learned a lot.

 

1. Kids love it! Oh sweet dear lord, the comments from kids are THE BEST part about having funky, vivid hair. If I could bottle up the smiles, the looks of curiosity, the questions, the pointing fingers, the exclamations... aw, man, I'd drink that on any day I feel bad. Kids have no fear and no sense of social awkwardness when it comes to asking questions. So when they see someone walking around with hair the color of My Little Pony blood, they will say what they think. "Look, daddy, it's Pinkie Pie!!" "Mommy! I want pink hair!" "Is that your real hair?" "Why did you do that?" Sometimes they would just stare at me in awe. There's something so fun and cool about being the walking embodiment of a cartoon character, and sharing a clandestine smile with a kid who still believes in fairies.

 

2. Not all dyes are created equal. I knew this going in, but over the past year I've gotten quite an education in what it takes to keep color fresh. Because there are no permanent dyes for vivid colors (yet), all of my pink colors are semi-permanent. They all fade, some slower than others. So, through experimentation, I found that I LOVE Special Effects brand "Virgin Rose" or "Atomic Pink". Manic Panic is okay as a brand, but it left my hair feeling filmy. My hair soaked up the Special Effects colors and held them for at least 2 weeks longer with more vivid tone.

IMG_07103. That shit's expensive. Or it can be. Not only would I be touching up every 6 weeks or so, I discovered that my hair grows insanely fast. The roots would need a touch up every 8 weeks or so. Going longer drove me crazy because the dark brown roots made the pink look...I don't know, dirty? It just didn't blend well. And it was most pronounced when I pulled my hair up into a pony tail. So, maintenance (bleaching, dyeing, touch ups, gloves, dyes, bowls, brushes) got to be pretty expensive. On top of that, there are other products that I tried using to extend the life of the color. While those worked well with Manic Panic, they became superfluous with Special Effects.

4. Totally great for my career. Seriously, some people look at vivid, unnatural hair and think, "You will never get a job," or "that's got to be terrible for work." Being a full-time writer has a number of perks, and having pink hair was a boon for me. At Phoenix Comic Con, my pink hair was my calling card. People saw me on panels, at signings or events and had an instant way to remember me. Being "that pink-haired author" may not have sold more books, or maybe it did. I really can't tell if that made people more or less likely to buy my work. But it did help with my recognition and building my brand.

IMG_12565. I love having vivid hair. I dig the way I look with pink hair. I had a lot of fun playing with different shades, as is notable by the fact that I took WAY more selfies over the past 11 months. Mostly, though, I love the pink hair because it's an outward expression of ME. Like tattoos, piercings and clothing styles, my pink hair is a way to communicate what's inside the physical package.

After 11 months with pink hair, though, it's time for a change. I'm tired of lamenting my roots coming in and doing the "gotta get bleached, how does the bank account look?" dance. But I really love the pink. If I could just naturally grow pink hair, I totally would. Sadly, I can't. I want to keep that color, that calling card. So, I'm going back to my colorist with some ideas for the next chapter of what to do with my hair. And yes, it will include pink. But it will also play better with my natural color so hopefully it won't be so crazy to maintain.

*If you're in PHX, check out Austin Michael!

When Jokes Attack

So, earlier this week I turned 35. I can now run for president in this country, check a new and exciting demographic box on forms, and refer to high school students as "those damn kids". (Get off my lawn.) One of the things that reportedly comes with advancing age is wisdom. And I think I might've gained some recently along with leveling up. It has to do with humor. It has to do with those pesky voices in my head that I'd rather bind, gag and shoot into orbit. It has to do with re-writing 35 years of programming.

So meet me after the jump and listen to the story of how Jamie realized she needs to be kinder to herself. 

Now, being good to yourself might seem like a no-brainer. Well duh! *shakes head* It's not for me. It's something I'm still learning. I've been unpacking a lot of old baggage recently (hooray major life changes making you sift through your shit, and forcing you to chuck it!) and I've discovered roots to current behaviors.

One thing you should know about me is my humor. I often use self-deprecation for comedic effect. In fact, I do this so often, it used to be a tagline on this site (and it still is on my business cards): 1010131511I've used self-effacing humor for decades at this point. At first it was a defense mechanism. You see, I was a fat kid. Look at this picture:

me, circa 1987

I'm sitting here trying to type the next line and it's killing me not to make some wisecrack. But that's part of it, isn't it? For years I've made jokes about my body because, as the logic went, if I said it first, that meant that the bullies wouldn't get the chance. Yeah, I was bullied a lot because of my body. I was taller than the other kids, that's for damn sure. And I was bigger. I was a perfect target, and kids are fucking cruel sometimes. So "beached whale" was a popular one. Pig, hog, fatso, fatty, thunder thighs, cow, heifer, chunky, chubby, Jabba.... I heard them all.

So, I did what I did best: I made jokes. I started putting myself down before the others could. I started talking smack to preempt their attacks. And even after the attacks stopped, I kept on doing it. Just a few months back, I started jokingly referring to my physique as comparable to a "harpoon-scarred manatee".

Funny, right?

*shakes head*

No.

It's hard to be nice to myself. So that picture up there? I was 7. When this picture was taken, I'd already started trying to diet and had very conscious thoughts of literally cutting off my fat.

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1986. First grade. I think this is when things ramped up in terms of my "education". I don't know exactly when it began, but I was taught at an early age to dislike my body. I was taught that my body was flawed, gross. Something to be hidden. Something to be improved. ("You'd be so pretty if you just....") Something to be ashamed of. And this wasn't just society telling me this. It wasn't magazines or television. It wasn't media. It was personal. Friends, peers, teachers, family members. I was trained to believe that this body of mine was inherently wrong.

As I looked through pictures today for this post, trying to find one that was the best example of how terrible I am, I kept saying, "There's nothing wrong with her. Nor her. Nor her. Why did I think I was so fat? Why did I think I was so ugly? And why the fuck did everyone tell me that?!"

To be fair, I say "everyone", but it wasn't "everyone". However, when some of the most important female role models in your family keep spouting off "You'd be pretty if..." or "you lose X amount of weight, I'll give you $25".... no shit, my grandmother tried to bribe me. And it wasn't just weight loss. I had warts on my hands when I was younger. They went away on their own, but she would always say, "If you get rid of them, I'll give you money." (For the record, freezing warts FUCKING HURT!) Later it was plucking my eyebrows. And it was always $25. So that's the going rate of acceptance, apparently. (sorry, that was a little dark.)

Thing is... other people put such importance on my looks, I started feeling like that's all I was My worth was in my body, in my appearance. And it wasn't good enough. So I couldn't be good enough. I learned better over the years, but sometimes, those old tapes start playing when my voices are nostalgic for the old days.

me at 35

Point is...those voices have been around for a very long time. Those jokes, those reactions... they're ingrained. And I've always thought that the jokes were harmless because they were self-inflicted and I didn't really mean it, right? I was just joining the crowd or getting one in before anyone else could. So calling myself a "harpoon-scarred manatee" is harmless! Wrong.

Recently, I was having an intimate encounter with my beloved when his hand slid up under the hem of my shirt. Just a little so that it rested on my belly.

Every single one of those voices began shouting 'HARPOON-SCARRED MANATEE!!!'

And thus began the awkward mental tango of self-loathing and trying not to wilt on the spot.

Since then, the phrase "harpoon-scarred manatee" has been banned. Sean has put his foot down on the matter and gets quite cross with me if I make jokes about myself. Friends are calling me out when I make other self-deprecating wisecracks. But as I said above, it's kneejerk. It's reflex. And I'm learning that. I'm trying to undo that. I'm trying to stop, which means not only re-wiring my humor, but it means unlearning lessons that have been in place since before I was in first grade. It means undoing a lot of damage that others started, but that I carried on.

And it doesn't mean that I need compliments or approval or acceptance from others. It doesn't mean I post selfies looking for gratification. No, that's not it at all. In fact, I don't want that. It doesn't mean that I post this blog and get sympathy or apologies. I don't want that either. All of the acceptance and apologies need to come from ME to ME.

It means looking at pictures of little Jamie and saying, "There was nothing wrong with her at all." And it means looking at a picture of me at 35 and saying, "There is nothing wrong with her. Not at all." Most importantly, it means never teaching my child to hate her body. Teaching her instead that she is a work in progress, that she is beautiful and loved and never has to jump through hoops for love or money. There is no, "if you did this, you'd be better".

Self-loathing is learned behavior. So is self-love.

And I'm working on it.

And I think I'm going to need new business cards.

 

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Public Access

So, I've been watching Amanda Fucking Palmer's glorious TED talk "The Art of Asking" over and over. It's profound and speaks to my hippy dippy crowd-love soul. It's 15 minutes well spent and should be required viewing for all artists,performers, musicians and storytellers across the world. Not because it's The Way or anything, but because there is wisdom there and it raises some fantastic questions that we need to ask ourselves about what we do. Check out the video (linked above) and meet me after the jump for my thoughts.

In her TED talk, Amanda shares stories about her time as a street performer and the human experiences she had with other people. She discusses crowd-sourcing a couch to sleep on while on tour, and her propensity of finding artists and performers to share at her shows. (Fun fact: my last professional poi gig was spinning glow/sock poi for 3 consecutive hours at a Dresden Dolls show in Tempe '08 as part of the call for artists. Hella fun.) In all the stories of personal connection there are lessons about what we as artists/creators do on the person-to-person interaction as well as profound questions about how we move forward in the digital age.

"I maintain that crowd surfing and couch surfing are basically the same thing. You're falling into the audience and trusting each other." - AFP

I've said before that writers need to write from a place of truth if they want a good story. We need to be able to be vulnerable and be unabashedly human and real within our stories to lend them a visceral truth that is recognizable by the reader. We have to fall into our audience and trust that they will accept our gift to them in the spirit in which it was given. And you need to similarly build trust with your reader. They need to trust that you will lead them through the story. That you will answer the questions you ask in the story and make good on your end of the connection. Putting a book out there isn't just a monetary exchange. You are connecting with someone, inviting them into your story to introduce them to a world of your creation. You're opening yourself up to be ripped apart on the Internet for writing drivel. You're allowing yourself to be seen in a very special way when you put it out there. Even if it's just a short story on a blog, you're taking what some see as  a risk. You open yourself up to criticism as well as compliments. (Compliments are just as hard to take sometimes as flame comments. I'll get to that in another post.) At the end of the day, making your writing public is crowdsurfing. You're falling into an audience and trusting each other.

"Celebrity is about a lot of people loving you from a distance...but {being an artist} is about a few people loving you up close and those people being enough." - AFP

There's something else going on here, though. There's an openness that isn't just the vulnerability of telling a story, but also of being accessible to your audience. The past decade has seen a major change in the way artists can react with their fans. I can have a late night Twitter conversation with Steven Brust or get into a giggle fit with Christopher Moore. Thanks to the internet and email I have damn near instant access to not just other fans but a direct connection to the artists, actors, musicians and authors that I admire. Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, blogs... all of them help us connect with each other, our audiences and our heroes.

Right now newb authors are being coaxed into diving into the social network pool head first. It's part of building your platform, right? Well, I know it's not for everyone. I was talking with a friend once who is a damn fine storyteller. He said, though, that if he ever wrote those stories down and tried to sell them he would be a recluse. He wouldn't be a social media maven with live Tweet chats or blog tours or any of that. He's too private a person and shuns that kind of exposure. Right now, that approach is a difficult one to make because we as an audience want that kind of access. That connection is a sacred one and I think it's something we've lost, but are finally getting back.

It's a question you need to ask yourself as an artist: how accessible do I want to be to my audience? This will determine the content of your online presence and your interaction with your crowd. The question is largely about trust and the answer has everything to do with your comfort level and your life.

Personally, while I do keep certain parts of my life veiled, I've been an open book here. I prefer it that way. By showing you my stories, you've already seen me naked and bare. I've left myself open to whatever you can throw at me. The more public you go, the wider that scope is and the more risk there seems to be. There's more of an opportunity for rejection and vitriol, more of a chance that someone will shout words that trigger your softest spots. We want people to like us and our words, we don't want to hear our own insecurities made real. It's bad enough that we have those voices blaring in our heads, but to hear those words come from someone else's mouth? There is a risk. But there are rewards. Great ones that hinge on the connection made between author and reader. To be open to those experiences is to be vulnerable and accessible to strangers. It takes trust.

This is why when I see an author/musician/performer behaving badly that I get up in arms. It's a breach of the unspoken contract we build, an abuse of trust.

Anyway, I really don't have a good way to wrap this up today. So, I'll say thank you. Thank you for coming here, sitting by my fire and talking story with me. Thank you for letting me share pieces of me and my writing with you. Thank you for seeing me.