Skinny shaming is a thing. Sincerely, a not skinny girl

Thin

© Steph Jael

 

This one has been on my mind a lot lately. As a person that publicly promotes body positivity, I often get asked… “Can you skinny shame?”

In my opinion, yes. Yes, you absolutely can. And to be honest, two or three years ago I would have said something very different.

As Facebook feels the need to show me “memories” from the past (please stop), I’m reminded of many unpleasant things. I’m reminded of how bad my use of punctuation was, some of my humour, and even some of my beliefs. Most recently, one of the reminders was the whole “real women have curves” meme. As I looked over at my precious Hannah, long and slender, I felt immediate shame on behalf of my old self.

I often feel like I am teetering the line of being a “chubby” and “not chubby” person. By no means am I thin, and in some contexts, I may not even be average. I have fat deposits, a soft stomach and a broad frame… and I’m just not little. Thinking back to it, I shared the post because I finally saw something that validated my body as it was. After a lifetime of media and public opinion contributing to my shame, I finally felt empowered and represented. I was allowed to love my curvy body. But at what cost? At the cost of shaming someone else’s body?

Thin2

© Steph Jael

“Real women… eat a cheeseburger… get on a treadmill” … It’s all the same thing.

To be honest, I have heard more commentary on my (thin) partners’ body than I have my own. She is stared at in public when she eats, she is greeted by people about how skinny she is, and she (like many) feel unable to vocally promote “body positivity” because of her thin frame. And why is that?

Why is it that if someone calls me fat it’s socially unacceptable, but in the same breath can tell a thin girl to eat a cheeseburger?

Why do my self-love posts have more weight (pun intended) than hers?

“Real women have curves/eat a cheeseburger” is the same as “get on a treadmill”. Which is the same idea as attaching sexual orientation to hair length, or gender to body parts, or any concept onto any physical attribute. The point is, this kind of verbiage inadvertently sends the message that you’re worth and experiences are only as good as your body parts. That you are your body, and that your (very real) emotions aren’t valid.

Thin 5

© @hhannahht

The pendulum swings

I believe it was Mark Twain that said something along the lines of, “whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to reform (or pause and reflect).” Historically (unlike racism, or sexism), privileging of certain body types varied. During times of Famish, to be “thicker” implied wealth. Whereas in the early 90’s, “heroin-chic” became the coveted thing. Fads have always changed. That’s kind of the point. I think it’s our way of anchoring our self-worth throughout these changes that we ought to address.

I find when people become aware of an error on their part, they often feel so much shame that they go running in the opposite direction with their new opinions. They feel so much guilt and shame that they go out of their way to be “extra aware”. We then adopt the notion that to “give privilege” we need to take it away from someone else.  To empower one, we must shame the other.

But what we often forget is, oppressing one group to uplift another will never – and I mean never – create sustainable empowerment. Taking from one to give to another will only ever lead to a continuous pattern of imbalance. And how long until the pendulum shifts again?

Thin3

© @hhannahht

Attack the societal belief, not the person.

I think it’s important that just because societal structures are designed to endorse some people and not others that it doesn’t mean that we should forget the human component. I think we should remember that people of privilege (and in this context, thin people) still feel. And often, these feelings are similar to our own.

Many of my thin friends feel just as insecure about their bodies as anyone else. They struggle to find pants their size, they are dismissed as body-positive representatives and are often made to feel as if their beauty is contingent on their body… just like, anyone else. To tell a person that their feelings are invalid (for any reason) only serves to take the same pain you feel and project it onto another. Why not let the pain end with you? Why not do something magical by empowering everyone to love the skin they’re in?

Thin 4

She’s thin. I’m not. We are both beautiful.

In a world that is designed to pit women against each other, people against each other, it’s important to buy into those hopeful notions of empowering one another. At the end of the day, we’re all people, and we’re here for a short time. We’re all trying to make ourselves as comfortable as possible, and get as much out of this life as we can. Why not help someone along that journey a little faster by sharing your light?

In short, as a not skinny person, there is such a thing as skinny shaming. And really, it’s not necessary. There is no shame in loving the body you are in. And there certainly is no shame in the thin, fat, short, tall, red, blue person beside you loving theirs either.

Thin is beautiful.

Curves are beautiful.

Self-acceptance and love are beautiful.

 

All of my love,

-Steph Jael

What’s wrong with men: The 3 things you should stop asking lesbians

*Disclaimer: All of these are 100% real questions that I have been asked a countless number of times throughout my life when people “find out” I am a lesbian. While these responses may reflect the view of some who identify as a lesbian it is not (and should not) be taken as a broad generalization representative of every other individual that identify as such.
Each response is my personal thought and is presented with the intent to kindly shed a little light. It is also to be noted that these experiences are those of a short-haired, sans make-up wearing lesbian. Believe it or not these factors have lead me to have experiences that may differ from a lesbian who is traditionally more feminine. This is largely due to stereotyping. We will later discuss “Femme Invisibility”, an issue for lesbians that do not look “stereotypically gay”.

 

lesbian queer women

© Steph Jael, 2015

 

When I started writing this blog initially it had been some time since I had met someone who didn’t know my orientation. Therefore I didn’t actually know for sure if people really still asked these kinds of questions. Later that night I had a business meeting at a pub. After the meeting ended a man who was nearby started to chat with me. We chatted on and eventually at some point he must have felt comfortable enough to start with the “gay questions”. He managed to ask every single one I will mention below – word for word. I responded to them then exactly as I will in this post. While I am always happy to inform and educate I find there is a way to respectfully probe for information when inquiring into very personal topics. Here are the top three questions you probably didn’t know you should stop asking lesbians (and a guess at what you probably mean to actually ask).

 

1. You like girls?!…. What’s wrong with men?!

Playful Answer: The sarcastic person in me that is so sick of hearing this question, and so tired of having resistance from society over something that is inherent in who I am says, “nothing… why don’t you be with one first and then I will?”

The real answer: I think what you’re looking to ask here is “why do you like women?”

Here it is; nothing is wrong with men. At all actually. As I have mentioned before, some of the very best people I have the privilege of knowing are men. Each of them possess attributes and characteristics that I value in such high regard within an individual, period. But it comes down to this; men are simply not what I am attracted to for a romantic partner. I wouldn’t even call it preference as preference implies I have a choice. Being attracted to women is not a choice, much as it is also not yours.  As it’s not a person’s choice if they are attracted to a man… or ballet… or the Winnipeg Jets. It just is. And that’s okay. It is however a choice to accept these parts of yourself – to which I have had the opportunity to embrace.

lesbian queer women

© Steph Jael, 2015

2. So which one of you is the man?

Playful Answer: Neither of us is the man. We’re lesbians.

The real answer: I think the question you are looking to ask here is “who is masculine and who is feminine”?

So here is my answer: stating that there “need” be a man implies that the relationship simply cannot exist or be warranted without the presence of one – which as we know is not true.

Further, if you ask who is more masculine/feminine this still wouldn’t truly be accurate to who either of us are. I don’t wear makeup while my partner does. When I get married I intend to wear a suit while my partner would prefer a dress. However, I am also more sensitive than she is. Her hair is just as short as mine, and she is also attracted to people “traditionally feminine”. So who actually is more masculine? Who is more feminine? To be honest I don’t think either of us are just one or the other. We are both a little bit masculine, a little bit feminine, and a lot of everything in between. That is the premise of this blog. That we as human beings fall within a spectrum and should embrace this.

3. “So… where the party at?”

Playful Answer: This statement has become so offensive I no longer have one.

The Real Answer: The first few times I was asked this I didn’t even get it. After probing further I quickly realized “where the party at” meant being a lesbian was synonymous with entertainment. This became gravely offensive quickly for two reasons.

As a lesbian I have found over and over again that my orientation, gender, and therefore my relationships with other women (even platonic) are often fetishized – by both men and women. When people realize I am attracted to women they often try to relate to me by disrespectful and chauvinistic comments about them. Which is not only disheartening but the complete opposite of how one should view them. All of the women in my life I truly love, respect, and admire – the way I do any other individual. The women in my life aren’t stage props that need to be controlled or complained about. They are strong, independent, power-houses that allow me the honour of being part of their lives.

Second, here is the thing about the phrase “where the party at”… my life isn’t actually a party my friend. Contrary to what media may portray we aren’t in a hot tub at all hours with mojitos (although if you figure out how to go about this life please let me know). We get sick and need to be cared for. We are gross in front of each other. We lay in our pajamas all day. We go for dinner with our parents, go to school, struggle, cry, laugh etc. We are actually the same as everyone else. Lesbian is not synonymous with “a good time”.

And the reality behind the questions you are asking is this:

  • Same sex marriage only became legal in Manitoba in 2004. I was 16 years old. If I were a born a decade earlier I would not have been able to marry the woman I am in love with right now.
  • Traveling to certain countries is off limits for me and other LGBTQ people because of our orientation.
  • People around the world are still being killed because of their orientation.
  • Even within “safer countries” like Canada, we still experience an enormous amount of homophobia in both passive and physically aggressive ways.

As with any minority group we are given the special task of educating people. While it can be exhausting, frustrating, and sometimes even offensive to continue answering these questions, when it comes down to it I am quite honored to be able to teach and share. Particularly in recent months I have had the opportunity of sharing my experiences with gay youth in hopes of providing support and guidance.

I think the world is slowly but surely getting better. Attitudes are changing, people are becoming more accepting, and for the most part within North America my experience is that homophobia is not only no longer trendy, but unacceptable. I am both blessed and grateful to be gay in this part of the world during this time.

To end this post I have one more bonus question for you:

You remind me of Ellen Degeneres…or KD Lang…. Or my aunt who is actually Jane Lynch and married to my cousin Susan who has a daughter named Ruby Rose… I wonder why that is?

Real Answer: It’s the haircut.

Processed with VSCO with b5 preset

 

Steph Jael

 

You’re still homophobic, Felicia

Many people think homophobia is out the door. For what it’s worth, I think in North America its no longer as trendy to be physically violent and directly aggressive about someones orientation. I will be the first to admit we have come a long way in a short amount of time. However, I will also be first to say that homophobic attitudes are still very much alive and well in our society. This often rears its ugly head through subtle and not so subtle commentary. While many people no longer feel the need to physically kick our asses they do however feel the need to make sure we understand they mean “no homo” in public and “let’s experiment” in private.

Inspired by all the women that think we “want to bang them”, here are 10 things that kinda suck to continue saying to gay people (and what we really think):

1.My cousins-sisters-brothers-cats-nephews-pastors-wives-aunts-birds-dentists-dog is gay. Do you know him?”

….

2. “Which one of you is the man?”

Well gee, according to my hair length…

 

3. “But a woman can’t “fuck like a man”.

Exactly.

 

4. “You shouldn’t be able to use dildos, you made your choice”

And you shouldn’t be able to do anal. You made yours.

 

5.”You’ve never been with a man?! So you’re a virgin?!”

Sure. I’ll be whatever you want me to be baby.

 

6. “I love Ellen…. You look like Ellen… WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU DON’T LIKE ELLEN?!”

…..

 

7. “I would never show you my boobs. You’re a lesbian.”

Please don’t. I have my own.

 

8. “Is it sex if there’s no dick?” 

My orgasm sure thinks it is.

 

9. “Do you find me attractive?”

Please don’t make me hurt your feelings.

 

10. “So like how do you know you’re gay? Like how do you ACTUALLY know because I’m trying to get my daughter to be a lesbian.” 

Just let her near one. Apparently being near us is more than enough to shatter your orientation.

 

Does Gender Inequality Actually Exist: 3 Things That Became Grossly Apparent

7© Steph Jael, 2015

Does Gender Inequality Actually Exist: 3 things that became grossly apparent.

(when I felt my gender)

*Disclaimer: It should be noted that gender falls within a spectrum. Perhaps one of my greatest realizations that has come from my encounter with gender inequality is the variety and fluidity that gender has presented itself in. We are more than just men and more than just women. Non-binary terms are slowly but surely becoming a thing of the past.

It is with that, that I state, for the sake of this article I am writing this from the perspective of a woman; realizing the expectation that traditional male/female stereotypes were expecting from me. It is my hope to delve into further discussions on future posts about the many facets of identity, from many perspectives.*

So my photo was censored… and then another one after that, and another. All of a sudden my gender and what was expected of me became pretty apparent. Something that I had never really thought about, that had always been relatively fluid, suddenly was demanding things from me that I hadn’t bothered to really question before. It was the middle of summer, disgustingly hot, and 3 men got on the elevator, shirtless. Where I once had not questioned how acceptable that was, I was now feeling rage. I was just as warm as they were, why couldn’t I be shirtless, without being objectified? Things started to sink in pretty quickly… gender inequality still existed.

Here are 3 key things that became grossly sobering as I realized gender inequality is in fact alive and well.

  1. My Body is a Wonderland; a Sexual Wonderland

This one cuts deep and can be traced back as early as the middle years with simple concepts like “dress-coding” for young girls. Being a “tomboy” with baggy clothes, hoping to hide whatever it was puberty was doing to my lean and androgynous frame, I had never personally experienced this.  But in watching the experience of my friends, I can’t count the number of times they were sent home, asked to change or to cover up because their clothing (or skin) were distracting.

What exactly is this idea saying to young girls?

  1. That your body in its natural form, is inherently sexual and should therefore be prohibited.
  2. That in turn a boy/man/whoever’s education is contingent on how focused they can be (around you).
  3. Which in turn implies that this person can’t stay focused so long as your sexual body is distracting them.
  4. Therefore, it is your job as an inherently sexual being to cover up if you expect anyone to get any work done, or additionally, are to remain safe.
  5. And finally, if you do decide to dress like this, you must be doing it for attention (heaven forbid you dress for yourself).

Conversely, what message does this send to young boys/admirers of girls?

  1. You, young man, have no control – least of all over your sexual desires (this notion is the basis of what has become rape culture).
  2. And because you are always thinking about sex, in an all-consuming way,  multi-tasking is not an option for you. You couldn’t possibly ever be engaged with anything else as much as you are engaged with this.
  3. Conversely, because you are always engaged in the pursuit of sex, it would be inconceivable to think you could ever be violated… least of all by a woman.

What we don’t seem to realize is that from even our early years, we begin grooming and sending out the message that our bodies are to be reduced down to nothing more than sexual objectification. We are not endorsing any regard for the content of our character or the responsibility of our own moral and ethical code.

Simply put, we are sending the message that sex is broken down into two categories; sex giver (women) sex receiver (men). Movements like the Slut Walk or the Free the Nipple effort will later become contingent on this ideal.

 

  1. Missing & murdered indigenous women is still a thing

Now this one has always been close to my heart. Growing up indigenous, in an indigenous neighborhood, I have always been aware of the marginalization and inequality of my people in Canada. But as I started to digest the idea of gender inequality, I realized that one of the biggest indicators it still existed was the Missing & Murdered Indigenous Women movement – a topic still very much present today.

The Native Women’s Association of Canada states that between the years 2000 to 2008, Aboriginal women and girls represented approximately 10% of all female homicides in Canada, even though they make up only 3% of the female population. NWAC’s research confirms that Aboriginal women experience violence by both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal offenders, and the vast majority are men.

While these numbers show that racial divide is still very much present in Canada, it is also worth noting that another demographic within this issue is reserved for women.

 

  1. Unequal pay in the workforce is DEFINITELY still a thing.

Archaic as this concept may seem when I really looked at it, it became quite apparent that the pay gap between men and women is also still very much existent and another indicator of inequality.

I didn’t have to look very far for an example. A good friend of mine makes next to minimum wage serving. She has a university degree, and has been with her company for 8+ years. While she does make additional money in gratuities it is not near the amount her boyfriend, without having finished high school, makes in the labor industry. During off season when he is  unable to work, he makes more on Employment Insurance (60% of his earnings) alone than she will make during a full 40 hour work week.

While it should be noted that women are now claiming their place in the working world we still have quite a ways away to go. Women are now able to hold positions in traditionally male dominated industries, but this does not deny the reality that other traditionally female dominated industries do not receive the same or comparable compensation. Even within my current field of Public Relations, women make up more than 70% of the field, but still make less than men. Huffington Post: Gender Pay Gap Canada article elaborates on this further.

 

I don’t hate you guys, I swear. 

For what it’s worth I want to make it clear that my comments in no way whatsoever are meant as an attack on one gender in order to uplift another – if we are going to break it down to two genders at all. For some reason I have found whenever a comment is made with the intent of uplifting a woman someone has felt the need to spin the effort as an attack against men.  I personally have some wonderful men in my life. They have done nothing but love, support, and respect me. Perhaps that is why it took me so long to realize that the rest of the world did not view women the same way they do. It is because of the men in my life (and the women, and the in between’s) that I am inspired to speak up on these issues. No one benefits from gender inequality.

All people are loving, sentient beings, that are beyond the stereotypes and expectations society places on us – and it is with that in mind that I encourage you to think about these things… and then challenge them.

All my love,

Steph Jael 

Shirts are for Boys – Your body offends me

Offensive Nipple

The above image is responsible for how I found feminism – which in turn lead me to the idea for Shirts are for Boys. This photo is one I took this past summer of my partner Hannah, while we were at a Manitoban nude beach. To be honest, at the time it was taken there were no real convictions or preconceived meanings behind it. The landscape was vibrant, the weather was warm, and after a lifetime of struggling with my own body issues I felt incredibly free being naked. Quite simply, I wanted to remember that moment, and so I took a picture. Not for a minute were there any thoughts about what the implications of taking this photo could be, or how it would completely change everything I thought I knew.

Let me back up a little bit. I was never fond of the idea of feminism. For one, I had no real idea of what the term actually meant and absolutely no intention of finding out. Like many, my idea of a feminist was an angry, man-hating lesbian with short hair, plaid shirts, and body hair. Given that I was already a short-haired, plaid-wearing lesbian I set out to make sure I conveyed an image that made it clear I was a humanitarian – NOT a feminist. I didn’t hate men and quite frankly didn’t really believe women were having that much of a different experience from them. It’s the 21st century, in North America nonetheless. Women have the right to vote, are allowed to wear pants, and sometimes we even get away with bad behavior because we are “non-threatening”. For women in the LGBTQ community, we were now able to legally get married, hold pride parades (in Canada) without much interference and for the first time in a long time had a growing amount of community support. Truthfully, I didn’t see the point in feminism or the true value of its efforts. I had never really felt connected to my gender until I received this response on my sharing of the photo of Hannah from a reputable social media platform:

“We removed your post because it doesn’t follow our Community Guideline. Please read our Community Guidelines to learn how you can help keep our site safe.”

Censorship?! My photo was reported for nudity and taken down because it was offensive?! I was in shock.

I had heard of censorship and the “free the nipple” movement. I had read articles on public breast feeding and knew the female body was offending people far and wide. But the actual implications of it were so far removed from anything I had experienced personally – I was outraged.

I have been an artist my entire life and am constantly striving to create controversial work. One photo I had success with entitled “She” depicted violence against a person identified as a woman. The photo gained some attention, shocked a few, and got some commercial and artistic recognition – but not once did it seem to offend anyone, least of all social media platforms. Now here I was… offending not only the individual who felt compelled to report my photo as inappropriate (which is actually quite petty in my opinion) but an entire social media guideline! I couldn’t wrap my head around how something that was meant to be a beautiful moment was being exploited and taken entirely out of context. It was then that I got angry. How dare a widely accepted and used social media site, one that should be responsible in encouraging ethical treatment and equal rights of all peoples, try to censor something that was very clearly artistic?

In response to my photo being removed I shared a call to action for all of my viewers, supporters, and fans to share the photo of Hannah. To my surprise people responded with an overwhelming amount of love and support by not only sharing my photo but adding commentary and encouragement to continue pushing back against my censorship. All of a sudden my inbox and media pages were being flooded with touching emails, words of encouragement, and stories of individuals who wanted this story shared – most of these people being women. Women who were vocalizing and sharing their stories that did in fact prove our experiences are different from men. That even though we can vote, wear pants, secure employment, that we are still very much existing in a binary and oppressive structure. That femininity, regardless of gender, was not socially acceptable and therefore something to be censored. That by accepting a part of yourself and owning your existence you can challenge social constructs – without being an angry lezzie.

It is this realization that lead me here, to this blog, Shirts are for Boys. Think about that phrase for a moment. I mean really let it sink in. How ridiculous is the notion that a shirt is for a boy… or a girl? That bare chests are only acceptable for one gender, while dresses and the colour pink for another? That any object or expression is reserved for a specific characteristic? That it is offensive for someone to be anything they want to be?

Shirts are for Boys is a creative response to inequality in our current culture. The focus is on creatively informing and discussing relevant issues surrounding gender. It is a blog dedicated to encourage readers to live authentically, find self love, and be what ever you want to be. It is about empowering others, exploring non-binary concepts, and liberation.

This is my response to censorship. It comes with love, compassion, and a real desire to affect change. Shirts are not just for boys, they are for whoever the hell want to wear them.

– Steph Jael

P.S. I’m sorry your body is offensive Hannah