What I learned from “Girls”

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.

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@lenadunham’s farewell letter on Instagram

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.

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@aw (Allison Williams)’s Instagram post on the night the finale aired

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.

And I think that’s all we’re really hoping for.

 

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Triota feminist club celebrates second annual Self Love Week

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.

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These were the loving work of members of Cal Poly’s Women’s and Gender Studies Honor Society and Feminism Activism club called Triota, who celebrated their second annual Self Love Week this February 26 to March 3rd.

“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.

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photo courtesy of 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.”

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.”

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photo courtesy of Zulema Aleman

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 men & body image

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. 

Undefining beauty standards

Vogue just released their March 2017 cover, one that celebrated 125 years of print and made the case that, “there isn’t just one type of American girl—nor has there ever been.

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“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.

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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.

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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.

The results are so sweet and pure.

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“My mom and I would always go shopping and she always taught me to love myself and that I don’t have to change myself or personality to fit anyone’s expectation.” —Sidney Williams
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“Ummm I feel at home at the beach.”—Mya Hauck
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“There’s something so raw and real about spending time in nature; the peace I feel makes me feel beautiful and connected to my surroundings.” —Chloe Knowd
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“I am at my best when I’m surrounded by my closest friends. It really is the little things in day to day life—like drinking coffee or sitting on the couch with your best friend—that make me fully content.” —Kelsey Dunkelman
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“I just love the way I feel in a big sweater, dancing around my kitchen to groovy tunes while making dinner. I feel so in my element. I truly dance like no one is watching and I feel my entire personality come out with no shame or purpose of hiding. I feel confident, quirky, beautiful, independent, me.” —Mikaela McGill
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“I feel most beautiful when I’m giving all of my love, attention and admiration towards something else—often times that’s exploring Mother Nature.” —Lauren Zaragoza

 

The beauty of vulnerability

In my last post, I mentioned Petra Collins’ feature with StyleLikeU. I thought I’d explain a little more about what StyleLikeU is. (Unless you already took the initiative and watched hella of their videos, in which case I think we’re going to be friends.)

StyleLikeU is a mother-daughter team who were inspired to combat the “disempowering system” of todays fashion and beauty standards by “documenting real people with original personal style.”

Since 2009, they have been producing video interviews that discuss and encourage self love, and the results are inspiring.

Their motto is “True Style is Self Acceptance,” which speaks to the idea that while style is an outward expression of who we are, it is what’s underneath that shows our true selves. And not just our bodies, but our personalities, our souls. What we’ve experienced and how it has shaped us.

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“True Style is Self Acceptance”

“Dress to express your inner spirit. Be unapologetically yourself… Embrace your unique identity… Your body is your home.”— part of the StyleLikeU philosophy

In November of 2016, Cavel Whyte, Leonard S. Newman, and David Voss published a study on body image and body dissatisfaction that they began at Syracuse University. They explored the effects of media images on women’s views of their own bodies, and what they found supported what society has been telling us for a while:

“Although an individual’s body image (and satisfaction) is multi-determined, a great deal of research has focused on one factor in particular: exposure to media images.”

This media projection of an “ideal” body type is what StyleLikeU is trying to combat. They interview real, genuine, non-photoshopped people with diverse body types who tell real stories and show us their real bodies.

The What’s Underneath project is a series of video interviews where the interviewee is sat upon a stool in front of a blank wall. As they begin to describe what their style says about them, they are asked to remove one article of clothing at a time until they are left in just their undergarments. At the end of each video, they are usually asked questions like, “When do you feel the most vulnerable?” “When do you feel the most beautiful?” and finally, “Why in your body, is it a good place to be?”

This is the first feature of theirs I watched, the one that got me hooked:

It is different to watch people open up and share honest stories about their past while undressing themselves in a way that isn’t shameful or sexualized (which it shouldn’t be, unless you wanna be sexy ‘cause it’s sexy time). The process is eye-opening. At the end of each interview, you’ve been shown that each person is so much more than what they portray themselves to be outwardly.