My name is Shanti Herzog and I am a journalism student at California Polytechnic University, San Luis Obispo. I created this body positivity blog as a platform to start honest conversations about ourselves and our bodies; how we feel about them and how we should treat them.
I can remember exactly how this poem came about. I was sitting on my couch, journaling about how confused I was by life (as usual), and as I looked down at my legs I realized that in the light I could very clearly see the veins in my thighs.
Here’s what I wrote in that moment as I traced the little lines with my fingertips, took a deep breath and remembered that no matter how confused or unsure I might be, at least my heart was still pumping blood through my blue veins. And I felt a little better.
HBO’s “Girls”finally wrapped up their raunchy, real and boundary-pushing series Apr. 17, bringing the work of Lena Dunham and partners Jenni Konner and Judd Apatow to its six-season close.
The show follows the lives of four women living in New York City as they stumble through relationships, adulthood and self-awareness. “Girls” ended with the show’s main character Hannah (Lena Dunham) struggling with new motherhood and settling into a mature adult life in upstate New York.
And, yeah, the finale made me sad, because things ending makes anyone sad. But at the same time, it didn’t really feel like the “end.” Hannah, having trouble with getting her new baby (conceived from a surf instructor that knocks Hannah up while she’s on assignment at a surf camp) to breastfeed, finally gets him to latch. This happens amidst other problems with her best friend, Marnie (Allison Williams), turned part-time nanny and tough-loving mother. But, like the rest of the show, it left me believing that even though I couldn’t predict what bizarre or unlikely situation Hannah or the other girls would get themselves into next, they were going to be okay.
I became a fan of Girls for a few reasons. The first being that I am biased towards anything the show’s producer, Judd Apatow, is involved with. If you didn’t love what he did with the show Freaks and Geeks then I’m honestly confused, but maybe you at least liked the Anchorman films, because he produced those too.
I saw him in a theatre in LA once and I think that’s the most amazing thing that’s ever happened to me?
The second and most life changing reason I fell in love with Girls is that the show taught me I can be super okay with my boobs being out; out in plain view for other people to see.
I didn’t suddenly start walking around my apartment topless like Hannah or Jessa did, but after seeing Lena Dunham exist as a naked human on television and be like, “Yeah, this is my body, and?” I began to understand more the idea that not only is it okay to show your body consistent love, but to flaunt the heck out of it. Whether it be taking a bath, having sex or freely walking around the apartment, “Girls” depicted the lives of these women in a realistic way, and often that involved boobs.
However, it is important to remember that while some people feel empowerment from showing off their body, others feel the most confident when they are being more modest. Both are perfectly okay, normal and admirable.
Either way, boobs are great. And the free the nipple movement is valid.
I loved Girls because it was a place where I could go to feel like other people have stupid problems just like, if not worse than my own. I loved being able to loose myself in their absurd world. When I felt overwhelmed by school and extracurriculars and work, I could watch the show and be like, “Phew, at least my life isn’t as messy and ridiculous as theirs. Like, at least I have some of my shit together because I went to class today… right?” But then again, my life is kind of as ridiculous and messy as theirs, just in a different way.
Girls captures the extreme unpredictability of life. Nothing happens all at once. Not every action we take brings us instant gratification. And this is so frustrating because we can get that instant gratification on social media, and we can see it in film and television, but it doesn’t happen for us that often in real life.
It’s overwhelming to think, as a college student, “Am I doing enough? Should I try to get an internship now or enjoy one last summer of freedom? Is my GPA high enough? Shouldn’t I be working more because I am so, so poor? And, okay but actually what happens after I graduate?”
But as Lena Dunham explains in her commentary on the last episode,
“Everyone is trying to figure it out… It doesn’t matter where you are, there’s like this lack of resolution, but you can always make the decision to do better.”
She’s right. This show followed it’s characters as they were just trying to figure it out. Hannah, Jessa, Marnie and Shoshanna were always just trying to figure out where they were most valued and what would make them happiest.
Like many shows whose premise revolves around a group of friends “just trying to figure it out,” they fought with each other, fell in and out of love a couple of times, did some drugs, had horrible jobs and great jobs, and yet somehow managed to stay in each others lives throughout it all.
As much as Shoshanna began to feel that the rest of the girls were holding her back, or Marnie realized that she couldn’t control her friends no matter how many “emergency meetings” she called, as much as these characters began to become frustrated with each other, they all knew that they would never stop loving each other.
Which is awesome to think about, that no matter how hard or how weird life gets, as long as you have those people that will hold you when you’re sad and laugh at your jokes, you’ll be okay.
In the second to last episode, Hannah and and Jessa have this moment where they both apologize for what they put each other through and recognize the pain they’ve both put up with. A little context— Jessa began a serious relationship with Hannah’s longtime boyfriend Adam (Adam Driver) which virtually ended their friendship. In Season Six, Episode Six, Jessa comes to Hannah’s apartment, telling her that she can’t lose Hannah as a friend, to which Hannah responds “I don’t care about you anymore.”
However, in the finale, the pair have a tearful reconciliation.
“We were just doing our best,” Hannah says, to which Jessa responds, “Our best was awful.”
And as Hannah agrees that their best was indeed awful, they both laugh because sometimes life feels like a joke. (Not necessarily in a sad way, but more of a “I don’t even know what’s going anymore but I’ll roll with it” way.)
Their best may have been awful because it wasn’t perfect and it sometimes hurt themselves and others. But their best couldn’t have been awful because it was what felt right in the moment, and like always, it turned out pretty okay in the end.
“Their best” was all this show was about. And I think it was great, in all of its messiness and absurdity.
Their best made their lives crazy, but it also made their lives genuine and good.
This means someone decided to leave their home and everyone they knew to be able to start a new life with their spouse in a different, foreign country.
Now I don’t know if I can really understand what this feels like, but it’s something my mom did. And she did it for love.
One of the most undeniable and powerful things we know to exist is love. We listen to songs about love, we yearn for love, we hurt when we love, we do crazy things when we love.
And as many others have done before her, my mom left behind her whole life to follow her love.
The real sacrifice she made, and the leap of faith she took, are things I sometimes overlook. But my parents 24th wedding anniversary is this month, as is my mother’s anniversary of immigrating to the United States from Ecuador, so I thought it was time to tell their story.
My mom grew up in Guayaquil, Ecuador with her parents, five brothers and one sister. She has endless stories to tell of her childhood, from flying small planes over the beach with her father, a pilot for the Ecuadorian air force, to getting into all kinds of mischief with her brothers.
Her father owned a hotel in a small beach town called Manglaralto, so she and her siblings would spend their weekends at the beach, riding into town on “borrowed” donkeys from the neighbors and befriending the surfers who came from all over the world to compete in local surfing competitions.
The stories she’s told me about growing up in Ecuador seem like one adventure after another, which is maybe why she was so ready to embark on this one.
In 1992, my mom met my dad, who had come to Ecuador from America with the Peace Corps. The next year they were married, and my mom made the decision to leave everything she knew and come to live with my dad in the United States.
“You know, I don’t remember feeling scared,” she said. “I remember feeling the most sad about not being around to watch my nephews grow up, but I wasn’t scared.”
My mom doesn’t get to watch her nieces and nephews grow up and have children of their own. She worries about not being there for her parents now that they’re getting older.
Living so far away from those you love and share your roots with is so hard, which is why we try to visit our family in Ecuador as much as we can.
I am grateful to have grown up with two countries I can call home, both full of loving family and friends, and it is all because of my mom.
“You two make it worth it,” she says about my brother and I. “If I didn’t come here I would’ve never had you. I did it for you.”
I will never be able to thank her enough for the sacrifices she made. I just hope she knows that now, everything I do is to make her proud, because I am proud of her and the things she’s done for love.
If you visited the Recreation Center on Cal Poly’s campus Monday night, you may have noticed sticky notes sprinkled throughout the gym; at the entrance gates, next to mirrors, above scales in the women’s locker room. More of them were stuck at eye level along the Starbucks line and in various bathrooms on campus.
“We’re trying to bridge the idea of [feminist] theory and activism, because there’s no theory without activism and there’s no activism without theory,” said Triota club president, fourth year Psychology major Zulema Aleman.
Aleman is a Mexican-American, first generation student, and has been a part of Triota since her freshman year. She is involved in many activist groups on campus and also works for Safer, where she builds curriculum for undocumented students and leads “Let’s talk Sex” on campus, which is a monthly series about sexuality and communication and consent in relationships.
“It’s really interesting getting to work with different types of people and in different types of cohorts, and at the end of the day we kinda’ have similar goals where we want a better future for everyone,” she says.
Triota kicked off their annual Self Love Week with a Sunday night social, where they indulged in pasta while writing positive messages on post it notes to stick in places where people would take a moment to read them and be reminded that, yes, they ARE worth it and they ARE beautiful exactly the way they are.
Self Love Week hosted many other events, such as “Cuties & Compliments,” where they handed out cutie mandarin oranges, granola bars and of course, compliments to students in the UU, and a photo booth on Dexter lawn where they gave passersby the opportunity to take a photo with a sign on which they could write “why their body is a good body.”
photo courtesy of Zulema Aleman
photo courtesy of Zulema Aleman
Self Love Week was created last year, after many of the Triota board members realized that even though they all had different body types, they had all struggled with body image. The week was an opportunity to promote body positivity.
“Coming to this campus as someone who is fat, I realized that I wasn’t comfortable with myself,” Aleman said. “All the time I saw people who were the same body shape, who were like, ‘We’re gonna go hiking. We’re gonna go to the REC… I can’t eat this, it has too many carbs.’”
“That’s fine, you should be looking after yourself, you should definitely look out for your health,” said Aleman, but Self Love Week wanted to encourage girls to love their bodies and have a good time in their bodies in a way that didn’t revolve around eating a certain amount of calories or going to the gym a certain amount of times.
This year, Self Love Week became more about self care for activists.
After the election of President Trump, Triota has been much more active on campus, speaking out for the threatened rights of women.
“It’s not a secret that any of us don’t like Trump in Triota,” said Aleman, “Our activism has taken a huge toll on all of us and we kind of wanted to have a week where we celebrated one another and really pushed self care, because a lot of time it falls on the activists community, that is so small, to do a lot of work from the ground up.”
As I mentioned in my last post, activism can be exhausting when you take a step back to look at the grand scheme of it all, and realize that everything you’ve been doing barely makes a tangible difference. Aleman herself has wanted to give up countless times, but taking the time to consciously practice self care reminds her that she is doing so much.
Self Love Week was a reminder that even when it feels like we’re putting in way too much effort and getting way little appreciation, we are enough. It’s important to acknowledge the beauty that accompanies our individuality and to look after ourselves, and of course look after one another.
“It always just made sense to me to just stand up for myself and stand up for other women,” said Aleman.
On January 21st, an estimated 4.8 million people participated in the worldwide Women’s March to come together in support of human rights, including immigration and healthcare reform, women’s rights, support for the LGBTQIA community, environmental issues, freedom of religion and racial equality.
On February 16th, immigrants nationwide stayed home from school and work as part of the protest “A Day Without Immigrants.”
And coming up on International Women’s Day, March 8th, will be a Women’s Strike, called “A Day Without A Woman,” which according to their organizers;
“…Will be a day of action organized by and for women who have been marginalized and silenced by decades of neoliberalism directed towards working women, women of color, Native women, disabled women, immigrant women, Muslim women, lesbian, queer and trans women.”
President Trump’s inauguration sparked many groups of people into action, uniting them to take 10 actions within the first 100 days of his presidency. People that may have once felt as though they were alone are now being provided a platform and opportunity to come together to voice a common perspective. But as fulfilling as it is to take action when you feel strongly about a cause, it can be difficult not to get caught up in emotions, or feel as though you are even making a difference at all.
Activists ignite change, but in order to set a positive example, we need to make sure we’re taking care of ourselves while we fight for everyone else.
I talked to the Associate Chair of the Psychology and Child Development department and Women’s and Gender Studies Professor at California Polytechnic University, Julie Garcia, who gave me some tips on how to practice self care while still being active in the causes you believe in.
LOOK TO WHERE YOU CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE
One of the most frustrating feelings as an activist, or anyone who is trying to enact change, is feeling as though you aren’t making a difference. Garcia encourages focusing your attention on the things you can do, rather than those you can’t. Send a letter to a congressman, attend meetings, make some pins and pass them out. Identify where it is that you can be of most assistance and focus your energy there.
FIND YOUR COMMUNITY
Social medias makes it so easy for you to be flooded with opinions that oppose yours, and while it is important to know what’s going on, it’s just as important to, “create a community of people with a similar mindset to yours,” says Garcia. It won’t do you any good to let your emotions run high or waste your time trying to argue with people who will not change their mind. Surround yourself with people who support the same causes you do, who bring you up and make you feel as though you aren’t fighting for your cause alone.
DOUBLE CHECK YOUR SOURCES
Social media, “creates an us-them,” mentality, says Garcia. There are many social media networks and algorithms that, based on the sources of information you’ve already viewed, feed you more information to confirm your bias. Garcia stresses the importance of double checking your sources and questioning what you read. “It feels good to feel like we’re right, feels good to find sources that say what we already think,” Garcia said. In order to know you’re getting a full understanding of what is going on, you have to remember to go outside your box and not just look at what confirms your bias.
TAKE A STEP BACK
“It’s important to take a step back and immerse yourself in things that make you feel whole,” says Garcia. It can be easy to feel overwhelmed by all the policies, tweets or protests, but taking a moment for yourself can make all the difference. Whether it be exercising, spending time with family or friends, painting or cozying up in your bed with some good Netflix, spending some time away from the issues and back in your own, comfortable bubble can ground you again.
So, don’t forget to find support and give yourself some love while you’re out there CHANGING THE WORLD.
One of the less discussed topics regarding body positivity is that of male body image.
The Body Project, developed by the Women’s Studies Program at Bradley University noted on their website that, “So far, research has shown that male and female body images share many of the same features. Women and men, boys and girls, may share body image risk factors and consequences of negative body image, though studies do point toward males being affected a little less severely than females.” This was in regards to a study conducted by Psychology professors Duane A. Hargreaves and Marika Tiggemann.
According to The Body Project;
“Male body image also tends to be more misunderstood than female body image. Men are presumed to be mainly concerned with a ‘perceived lack of muscle,’ when in fact male body image can be much more complex.”
One study by professors in the Department of Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy of Osnabrück University in Germany tracked 45 weight-training men, while showing them photographs of men with normal, muscular and hyper-muscular body builds.
The study read that, “Among the 3 other bodies, the attractive body parts of the muscular body drew the most visual attention. Results confirm and extend recent findings on the relevance of muscularity for male body image. At the same time, they indicate a prominent role of drive for thinness for body-related attentional biases assumed to perpetuate body dissatisfaction even in men.”
To get the opinion of a real-life male, I sat down with my friend Wold Recht in the lawn in front of the Kennedy Library on the Cal Poly campus. As he picked apart the blades of grass in front of him, I picked apart his brain and asked him for his views of male body image.
“Within my own personal sphere, I don’t regard it as healthy to allow yourself to be influenced by what is effectively just a consumerist approach to what the body’s image should be.” —Wolf Recht
While Recht understands that he is surrounded by social pressures that affect many people’s body image, he chooses not to pay them much attention in his day to day life.
I guess this just shows that many people will feel differently when it comes to body image, especially because it is such a personal subject. It’s fascinating to open up conversations about self love or body image, particularly with people who have a different perspectives than you do; they will always teach you something new.
“Each of these cover girls proudly inhabits her own particular gorgeousness in her own particular way. Together they represent a seismic social shift: The new beauty norm is no norm.” —Vogue
However, there has been a bit of backlash from the public regarding the cover. Many social media users are pointing out that while the cover claims to be diverse, all the models appear to be medium to light skin toned and have very similar body shape and facial structure, the one exception being plus-size model Ashley Graham.
There are speculations of photoshop, and questions about why Ashley Graham is the only woman with her hand covering her thigh or why Gigi Hadid’s hand seems to extend to cover Graham’s stomach.
Vogue is trying to send a positive message however, one that says we shouldn’t hold everyone to the same standard of beauty because each individual defines beauty differently. But while their accompanying article is telling one story, pictures do speak a thousand words… and so far there hasn’t been a consensus on what those words are saying.
Nevertheless, Vogue inspired me to take some pictures of my own. If you’ve ever witnessed someone in a moment that made them feel so happy and beautiful, and seen that they’re just shining, you’ll remember how infectious that light is; you can’t help but smile with them.
To explore this concept, I asked some friends if they would let me photograph them in the state in which they felt the most comfortable and confident, where the only beauty standards existing were their own.