Who am I to feel like I’m breaking or broken? When my grandfather crossed the ocean he was alone and picked grapes in Fresno and called home only to be told to stay here and build a life for the future. For me to sit here unhappy is to reach back in time and stamp on the fruits that he had pulled and plucked truly breaking under loneliness and hot sun.
Who am I to break when I am so lucky? Lucky to take my time and study and play while mom and dad worked double shifts and swallowed tired breaths to make sure we kids had everything and more. And while my closet was filled with clothes and toys I cried breathless from pressure of just being, so fragile and easily broken and not seeing in the mirror a person deserving of any of it.
Who am I to break when I stand on a foundation that had been built with withered, cracked hands built out of sleepless, lonely nights and lost time? My only job was to be grateful and enjoy the fruits of the labor of others who had come before me, who had built this house. And who was I to cry and beat the walls because I couldn’t breathe When they worked their lives away to give me lungs so that I could inhale opportunity and what do I exhale but uncertainty and fear and unknowing of who I am?
And I left the house in search of fresher air building a separate life still on that same foundation not ever knowing what it’s like to go hungry or feel truly alone So who am I to feel lonely and sometimes not breathe for fear that the walls are cracking and this house will crumble and I with it and everyone will stand at the perimeter asking who and why was that.
It’s funny and strange how a city changes through someone else’s eyes. I scroll through my phone one day and am struck by a familiar scene a convenience store I pass every day to the office or home or somewhere hurrying by and never noticing the carved angels atop the building, misplaced among offices and cafes. I scroll further and see my subway stop a crowded and sweaty hell that I erase from my memory as soon as I escape has become a collage of textures and colors and shapes, a harmony of the contrasting lives.
I pass by the store the next morning and see the owner, who promptly at 8 hoses down the sidewalk and whistles Canon in D and I wonder which city he sees Is it the same hazy blur of employees and passerby’s and no ones? Or does he wash the canvas blank every day to make room for the next self-portrait?
I just finished watching Tiffany Ferguson’s video “I’m Not Like Other Girls” and it brought such strong feelings that I have to interrupt my highly prolific Alaska series that I’m definitely still working on and write about my experiences with individualism and internalized misogyny.
We have all seen posts like this scattered across Facebook, Twitter, and if you’re extra not like other girls, good old Tumblr. The nerdy, quirky girl who doesn’t wear makeup or care about fashion but is still somehow flawless and beautiful without much effort. She drinks beer and jokes around with the guys and doesn’t really fit in with Sorority Sarah because other girls are so vapid and dramatic! She doesn’t need flowers or chocolate, just buy her pizza and touch her butt.
I was guilty of being not like other girls. I read books and carried them around in the crook of my arm so my middle school peers could see that I didn’t care about Forever 21 (not just because I didn’t fit their clothes), I wore my brothers’ band t-shirts and played video games. My interests and hobbies during my early teenage years bordered between genuine interest and a feeling that I had to enjoy things apart from what typical girls enjoyed. Because to take part in those rituals of makeup and shopping and accessories would bring the risk of subjecting myself to the typical ideas of femininity and womanhood. And who would want that? Nay, I was a quirky snowflake who rejected girly things because girly meant not what men like. And to not be what men like is bad.
Looking back now at my thoughts and feelings as a tomboyish teenager, I wonder if my snowflake syndrome was the direct result of internalized misogyny or of a fear that trying to be attractive and pretty would simply highlight the fact that I was not either of those things. It was probably both. If you read my earlier post on my relationship with my appearance and makeup, you’ll know that I spent a good third of my teenage years looking like an actual boy. I guess I took the ~i’M nOt LiKe OtHeR gIrLs~ thing too far and teetered off the edge of looking like a girl at all.
In case you haven’t read the post and don’t care to, this is what I looked like:
And if you had read my post and are sick of seeing this picture, too bad. It is here to haunt you forever just as it haunts me.
Whether my snowflake syndrome stemmed from either hatred or fear of my fellow women, it does boil down to the fact that it was influenced by a system we all know and love to mention in our feminist slam poetry:
The oldest and most generic definition of the word is:
a system of society or government in which the father or eldest male is head of the family and descent is traced through the male line.
What does this have to do with my life in 2019 and why do these dang feminists always want to smash it, you say? Well, the idea of male lineage has constructed a social dynamic in which men and the typical traits that we ascribe to men are the default. Men are typically strong, aggressive, stoic, bearded and burly and eat flapjacks aside their trusty blue ox, Babe.
Wait, no, that’s Paul Bunyan.
Because of these internalized prejudices that we have towards typically masculine behaviors like stoicism, pragmatism, and wearing flannel shirts, we almost automatically denounce the attributes that are typically feminine. Putting effort into looking pretty means that you are frivolous and don’t care about the real issues at hand, like how to out-argue someone in a debate or how to chop down trees. Wearing false eyelashes and curling your hair means you hate democracy and don’t care about the Amazon burning to the ground.
And god forbid you like to take selfies. How can someone be so vapid and self-centered that they fill precious phone space with pictures of their own faces??!
It seems as though as soon as a personality trait or hobby or interest is connected to the female population, it is deemed stupid or unnecessary. Teenage girls get the worst of it. From the dawn of man it seems that anything that young girls or women take interest in is considered foolish. Nora Helmer in A Doll’s House was constantly ridiculed and belittled by her husband because of her spending habits and because she liked eating sweets. The entire conflict is based on her husband’s inability to fathom that his little songbird was capable of getting the family out of financial ruin. Because isn’t it automatically the devil’s work if a woman does anything worthwhile?
Young girls are constantly ridiculed and chastised for everything they do. From pumpkin spice lattes to pop music to makeup to genuine nihilistic dread about the fact that life is a meaningless void, whatever girls come up with is just stupid.
Now we have the VSCO girl. I get it, making fun of trends is funny and not at all a cheap joke. But if reusable water bottles and comfy clothes are becoming trendy then I’m all here for it.
VSCO girls are a new internet phenomenon that I’m particularly interested in because it entails an intriguingly meta self-study of teenage girls reacting and dissecting their own trends. It seems like a self-parody of the ~i’M nOt LiKe OtHeR gIrLs~ trope and a possible light at the end of the tunnel that is internalized misogynistic hate we’ve instilled into our societies.
I’m not going to tell you to stop saying it, because you should have stopped after graduating middle school, if you did say it at all. But I will tell you, because it is still an annoying trope that persists when people want cheap laughs without taking the time to think of actual jokes, to stop relying on teenage girls for your humor. It’s old, overused, and frankly a little weird how society seems to be so obsessed with young women’s interests. Drink your Starbucks (with a reusable straw, of course) and wear that scrunchie on your wrist, or wear a flannel and frolic through the woods. Girls are awesome and strong and spunky, and I’m proud to be like other girls!
My first glimpse of Alaska was through the airplane window as we touched down in Juneau, just in time for the 10:30pm sunset. I had expected and looked forward to these late night sunsets and the feeling of basking in sun for a majority of the day, but I didn’t realize how jarring it would be to see the sun peaking out in the dead of night. Alaska was peeking her eye at me, daring more than welcoming the weary traveler to explore.
Our first activity was a guided eight-hour hike to Mendenhall Glacier, with Above & Beyond Alaska. They picked us up at our hotel near the airport and drove us straight to the trailhead, where we had a short orientation and gear-up session. We had brought our own backpacks and jackets but our two tour guides advised that it would be a muddy day with a good amount of gear, so we opted to switch to their provided hiking backpacks and windbreakers. Inside each person’s backpack was a helmet, crampons, hiking poles, some intimidating ropey-looking climbing gear, and a bag of snacks! Yay snacks.
Our group was quite large and while most of us were fairly young, there was also a mom and her ten-year-old daughter. There were some gaps as we hiked along the trail but our guides were attentive in making sure there was one in the front and one in the back to make sure the group stayed together. It was about four miles of hiking through the woods and moraines to get to the actual ice. While it was beautiful and lush, the mosquitos and flies were also enjoying the warm weather. Bring bugspray! Being the totally prepared and savvy hiker that I am, I forgot mine in my luggage. Luckily our guides had some on hand but the general rule I learned on this first activity was to just always have bugspray on my person at all times.
After the beautiful buggy hike we came upon the grandeur that is Mendenhall Glacier. It’s big, it’s beautiful, it’s blue, and it’s receding at faster rates every year. There are sign posts every few hundred meters to mark the year in which the glacier had been in that exact same spot. Sadly but not surprisingly the sign posts drew closer as the years crept towards the present.
We were very excited to explore some ice caves but unfortunately due to the extremely hot weather, there were none accessible enough that the guides felt comfortable bringing tourists to. This was a big disappointment but it was just another reminder that 1) Nature is not a theme park and if it were, one must get in line with the expectation and acceptance that the ride may or may not be functioning that day, and 2) the earth is dying at a rapid rate at the hands of capitalist industrialization and tourists not being able to see some ice caves is but a minor inconvenience in the grand tragedy that is human-influenced climate change. Although to be fair, someone in my group was really looking forward to the ice caves and had to rearrange his plans due to their inaccessibility (more on this later….)
Despite this minor disappointment, we had a great time on top of the ice. Our scary climbing gear and helmets were mostly safety precautions in the event that anyone slipped and needed help getting back up, and also set up for some really cool photo ops:
I had just finished Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness, which takes place on a planet called winter and in which the main character goes on a trek across hundreds of miles of glaciers and icefields. Having read this right before the trip was incredibly meta, as I gazed upon that gigantic block of blue and blinding white and wondered at its cold beauty and indifference to my puny human life.
Anywho, besides the day-long hike, we also wandered around downtown Juneau and went back to Mendenhall Visitor Center to check out Nugget Falls. A word of advice on this: when calling for a taxi, ask before booking if you will need to purchase the Glacier Pass from the driver. Our first driver claimed this was a mandatory $25 per person that we would have to pay in the taxi prior to entering the visitor center, otherwise he would have to drop us off two miles outside. We called another taxi company and they said that was some baloney–they dropped us off about 10 minutes outside of the visitor center.
From Mendenhall Visitor Center it was an easy 1-mile walk to Nugget Falls. The waterfall came upon a small beach from which we had a beautiful view of the glacier from across the lake. There was an adorable dog and baby playing in the water and Ratik, Jennylee, and I skipped some rocks. It was a serene, yet sobering place because while the glacier, lake, and waterfall were breathtaking, one could not enjoy the view without worrying about its rapid decline, and whether it will even be here for our grandchildren to enjoy.
And on that chipper note, we headed back to Juneau airport and flew to Anchorage.
Anchorage is a huge city, especially compared to Juneau. We didn’t do much here except sleep in between driving to our other destinations and walk around the shops downtown, but it was a relief of convenience with big supermarkets and gas stations galore to fill up on roadtrip snacks before we headed to each destination.
Our first destination was about a 7-hour drive from Anchorage, to the remote town of McCarthy. The last leg of the road from Anchorage to McCarthy is an unpaved, dirt road on which one drives for a few hours, eyes peeled for sharp rocks or ancient nails leftover from retired train tracks that crept along the road. If you decide to drive around Alaska, I highly recommend renting high-clearance and 4-wheel drive. It can be a little more expensive and not as environmentally friendly as a cute Prius, but you will thank yourself when you make it through a winding dirt road with no amenities leading into a town in the middle of the wild, Final Frontier.
I have a friend, Matt, who had grown up here and I remember him once telling me that his hometown didn’t have internet or phone lines until 2008. I never really understood this until we stayed in John Adams’s (yes that’s his real name) lovely bed and breakfast on the edge of town. The property resembles a summer camp with detached cabins of varying room sizes and each with their own bathrooms, and a common breakfast cabin with a full kitchen. Despite the heat, our cabin was quite comfortable and John even upgraded us to a 2-bedroom instead of a 2-bed single room. Breakfast was the star of the show, featuring regular Costco comforts like oatmeal, hard-boiled eggs, cereal, milk, and fresh fruit, as well as homemade banana bread that John’s wife had just made the day previous. One thing I would like to note about this place is to be ready to lug your stuff from the front parking lot to your cabin. There is a platform connecting them that makes it easy for rolling luggage, but you will still have to pull them through a short dirt patch to get to the platform. It’s not backpacking up Denali, but it’s good to know ahead of time, especially if you are a crazy overpacker and have 90 pounds of just-in-case underwear and Walmart-sized hair products.
Getting into the actual town of McCarthy is easy, but it does take a bit of planning. There is a footbridge that goes over the river, before which is a parking lot ($10 a day). If you want to opt out on paying, you could park about a half-mile before that parking lot at a small visitor center and walk across the bridge. From the footbridge you could either walk a mile into town or wait for the shuttle.
There are things I should note about getting into McCarthy:
1) The shuttle is not so much a shuttle, rather a large van with a cracked windshield, driven by one of the locals. They will warn you about bumpy parts on the road (and there are many) and are completely nice and accommodating, but don’t expect an air-conditioned bus where you can put your feet up and relax before and/or after your glacier hike. Most likely you will be cramped amongst sweaty bodies and backpacks, consciously grooving your body against the movements of the van so as not to smash your head into the window/your neighbor/their muddy hiking poles poking out of their backpacks. That being said, cracked windshields and muddy hiking poles mean adventure, and that’s what you’re here for! Here’s the website with times and pricing.
2) The walk from the footbridge into McCarthy is short but beautiful, passing through a swimming hole and different spots along the river for skipping rocks or dipping your feet for a while. It’s quite dusty, but at this point in your Alaska trip I trust that you’re wearing clothes that you don’t mind dirtying up a bit.
This area is part of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, the country’s largest national park and home to a large historic mine town and Kennicott glacier. We rode the shuttle from McCarthy’s town center to the visitor center in front of the mine town; from there visitors can explore the abandoned buildings (which still hold the mining and processing equipment) and hike a 4-mile round trip to Root Glacier.
Ratik, Jennylee, and I brought our own crampons and hiking poles so we opted to hike this on our own (props to our fearless leader Ratik for thinking of buying our own gear and avoiding inflated tourist prices to rent them). The hike itself to the mouth of the glacier was fairly easy, although the very end does involve some rocky slopes. We spent about a few hours here, exploring the icy surface. The surface of the glacier extends for miles towards the mountains; I think this was the best place to really understand the physical enormity of glaciers and how they really are rivers of ice.
On our way out of McCarthy we stopped by my friend’s family cabins at Currant Ridge. Matt is currently living the dream in Hamburg, Germany, but we did get to meet his brother, Robert, and hang out while our fearless leader figured out our lodging for the night (we had planned on driving to a remote town called Whittier but their tunnel would have been inaccessible at our late ETA). Robert was a great temporary host and gave us a tour of their house and the cabins on the property. He had just come in from a hike to some ice caves, and we all bonded over fantasy novels and actuary science, which he’s studying in school. Thanks again for the water and the tour, Robert, and good luck with school!
McCarthy was definitely one of my favorite places in Alaska, not only because of the remote, wild beauty that made me feel like Bear Grylls, awesome glacier hike, and fascinating mining town, but because of the relaxed chill and nonchalant hospitality I saw in the people who lived there. Matt is an incredibly cool dude but he’s also genuine and kind, and now that I’ve explored his hometown I can see why and how he’s turned out that way. I may be overromanticizing my vacation because I’m writing this whilst eating an overpriced salad in my cubicle in the middle of the Financial District, but it seems like most of the Alaskans I’ve met are exceedingly chill and are always up for adventure and friends.
I’m currently working on remembering and journaling the rest of my trip, so stay tuned for more cheesy and overly sentimental recollections of the Last Frontier!
“What’re you gonna do with that?” I heard this question many times throughout my educational career as an English major — eventually I would just respond with a blank smile and allowed the inquirer to speculate on their own. “Ooooh, a teacher?!?!” They would smile wide and nod: a self-congratulation as they had brilliantly rationalized why anyone would choose to gruel over the humanities as their field of study. And of all humanities studies — English! You can’t write code or do surgery or found the next brilliant tech innovation with an English degree!
“I’ll just be broke or homeless, I guess,” I would say sometimes, watching the look of inquisitiveness move into either mild shock or annoyance. After all, that’s what it seemed their question was leading into. Why put myself through 4 long years of school just to read?
No one is ever asked what they’re going to do with a Computer Science or Medical degree, because those indicate specific career fields after graduation. Even some art degrees have logical trajectories: the exploding world of technology and entertainment will always have a designated home for designers, illustrators, and musicians. But for the humanities it’s not always quite clear. I’m looking at you, students of philosophy, anthropology, sociology, and of course, English. If you look so disdained and irritated at the thought of teaching, what the hell are you going to do with your life? You can’t highlight and discuss Dostoevsky for rent or bulk quinoa, you know. In this economy??
During the very last months of college I found myself wildly panicking over what was to come after graduation. I had seen the light after long, stressful nights of postcolonial essays and cursing Descarte, but what exactly was it that awaited me outside the tunnel? I had worked at Starbucks and as a math tutor for most of my time at university, but now I had to leave the lull of part-time work and join the work force as a full-fledged, blazer wearing adult. I began the arduous task of filling out applications and writing enthusiastic-but-not-desperate cover letters. The more company websites and Glassdoor reviews I read, the more I began to doubt and question myself. Just who the hell did I think I was, trying to penetrate into these money-flooded, world-changing industries with but a mere English degree?
The first thing I learned was that job applications are nothing but a numbers game. That posting on LinkedIn might have been there for weeks by the time your grubby hands clicked on it — imagine all the other souls that have already applied and posted their resumes and cover letters and hopes and dreams.
So you’re probably 189th in line to interview for a decent paying job in the Financial District with great benefits and catered lunches, and I’m sorry to say that statistically you are unlikely to even get an in-person interview. Maybe the recruiter won’t even see your profile. Don’t fret, dear friend. Remember the numbers and do not put all of your eggs (and your hopes and dreams) into one catered lunch basket. Take advantage of the “Easy Apply” button and up your game. The more applications you put out, the more likely you’re going to get a call. The more calls and interviews you’re granted, the more likely you’re gonna get a job.
If you’re feeling as insecure as I was about your major, don’t. The education section in your resume is only what, 3-5 lines? There is an entire 8 1/2 x 11 sheet (or A4 if you’re not American) on which you can paint the intelligent, competent, and hard-working individual you are. The skills you learn as a humanities major are useful and important, but you have to know how to market them to fit corporate expectations and needs. For example, my long, grueling nights over analytical essays and presentations became:
Efficient and thorough analysis of written text
Effective written and oral communication on different scopes and levels of detail
It’s all about selling your skills and customizing your resume and cover letter to fit the job application. Technical writer? Emphasize your quick and accurate copywriting/editing skills. Project coordinator? Highlight your communication skills and the high- and low-level detail work you put into that senior thesis.
That being said, I’m going to have to get honest with you, fellow humanities major. Unless you’re intensely brilliant and prolific, Hermione Granger incarnate, or you were able to land and work unpaid internships during college, I’m sorry to say that you are probably not going to be a tenured museum curator at the Smithsonian or a publishing editor at Random House right after graduation. If you have the financial means to do so, put in that entry-level time at creative companies and work your way up. If you do need to make that cash, maybe take some time in another industry while you keep working on your creative pursuits. I say this because unfortunately, you will probably have to weigh in between having a higher, secure salary versus lower pay while working on your passion project and dream career.
I personally had to choose between taking a lower paid entry-level position at a small publishing company and a higher paid position in an industry I don’t love. Call me a sell out, but I chose the higher paid position for now because I want to build up financial security while I keep looking for better paid creative work and endeavoring on my own passion projects (like this godforsaken manuscript). At first I felt guilty because I gave up the opportunity to work in literature for a corporate job, but I can still love books and writing while paying my bills and building my savings.
So yes, I did get a real, big-girl job with my English degree! I am not finished with my education and constantly scour free classes on Udacity and Coursera to learn new skills (Mandarin and Python just because they’re interesting) but I am proud of my education and what I’ve learned. I like the work I’ve found and admit to settling, but I’m also on a constant lookout for transitioning into creative work. Do not fret, dear English major. The world is abundant and full of jobs: careers that you will either love or careers that you can take for the time being while you gain more editing experience and/or finish that manuscript (finish it, dammit!).
Upon reaching home this evening, I noticed the violet peeking out above apartment roofs in its very last moments before fading into the dark. I was worn after driving through a rainy rush hour on 101, and before that a full day of answering emails and phone calls while my mind wandered to Hawaii and Alaska and beyond. After arguing with myself if it was worth it to stay out longer to see that violet, I called you from outside and told you to come with me.
We’ll have been living in Pacifica a whole year this April, but we still get lost to our sunset spot. Panicking over GPS, we circle around neighborhoods and hills, watching the violet begin fading away. We give up on our sunset spot and instead settle for the post office before a sandy cliff, parked with emergency lights on the red zone. There are others who have stopped in the end of their day, when they are weary from work and parenting and school and life, to see the violet fade into the sea. I step out and walk to the sand and see and smell the waves crashing upon one another. The ocean does not roar today, rather hushes me again and again. Not quiet or calm but sure of itself, comfortable in its cycle. The waves are high, reaching and failing every time to reach the moon, hiding behind clouds. It is cold and drizzling and I am in my work clothes, but we stand with others with our cameras pointed, trying to catch the remarkable violet.
I endeavor to capture this scene, playing with scales and buttons but never quite getting it. You get a few pictures of me — blurry and unfocused. But within the pixels and awkward posing there is that violet, now fading into the last explosion of reds and pinks as the sun makes her way down under the sea. The others fade away, drawn to the rest of their lives after getting that perfect shot. We sit in the car with the emergency lights still blinking and watch out the window, catching last glimpses of that violet as it fades into black.
There was a moment in my life where I never let the sunshine touch my skin. Before I stepped out into the world, I needed to paint over my acne scars, flick a wing at the edge of my eyes, and color in where the hallows of my cheeks should be. I played with pinks and reds and purples and spent unfathomable amounts of time and money on figuring out how to look flawless, chiseled, highlighted in order to make myself feel powerful, fierce, capable, beautiful.
For a bit of context, I spent most of middle school looking like this:
I was in the midst of the existential turmoil that comes with puberty, and looked up to punk icons like Sioxsie Sioux and Brody Dalle, thence the awful haircut that definitely broke my mom’s heart. There were many instances where it was me versus the daughter she had imagined: a daughter who would have had long hair and worn clothes besides her brothers’ band t-shirts and the godforsaken Jack Skellington hoodie I refused to take off. I remember crying one evening before church because my mom insisted I wear a green and yellow floral top; we begged each other without much avail to understand the opposite sides of that blouse. On another instance, she confided in me the painful embarrassment she went through over how I looked, all because someone had mistakenly referred to me as her son. This was also the time where I was beginning to explore my sexuality and gender identity: I started researching about the LGBTQ community and came to realize that not only was I queer, I didn’t really identify with the standards placed onto women. I wasn’t beautiful or feminine and didn’t want to waste my time on striving to be either of those. As the sole girl in a litter of 4 rowdy kids, I had abandoned my Barbies in 3rd grade and turned to WWE, Tekken, basketball, and all other things that frustrated the hell out of my mom and dad. So I abandoned society’s preset principles of femininity and embraced the fact that I just happened to look like a pudgy teenage boy. But freeing myself of these expectations didn’t make me happy — quite contrarily I was still miserable about being ugly even though I had already accepted it as my fate.
The melancholy of middle school began to wear off towards the end of 8th grade. My friends and I, the Nerd Cave Crew, shunned the idea that girls had to be petite and cute and have shiny long hair while we proudly rocked our completely-punk-and-NO-my-mom-did-NOT-buy-this-from-Hot-Topic identities. I comforted myself from the fact that I was not conventionally attractive by completely disregarding society’s expectations of attractiveness, but I still avoided mirrors and stooped my head in social situations in the hopes that I would not be seen.
The first time I remember actually studying my face and seeing that it really wasn’t that bad was the night of the 8th grade formal dance. Having no makeup of my own, I used one of my mom’s Estee Lauder palettes and swiped a pale glittery purple on my eyelids, then smudged a bit of eyeliner on my lower lashes just like the girl on YouTube showed me. After applying mascara and curling my eyelashes with the terrifying metal contraption, I looked in the mirror and saw a girl. It was the first time my Nerd Cave friends saw me in a dress or wearing makeup, and the first time in my teenage years that I felt pretty. I couldn’t help but feel a bit more human because I finally resembled what I assumed society, my mom and dad, what the world expected from me.
At first makeup was liberating because it gave me control over how I could look like. I was never the pretty girl, so to finally have these tools to emulate some sort of beauty felt like finally grabbing hold of mjolnir after a long battle where I had been fighting naked and vulnerable.
I began buying my own makeup and religiously watching beauty videos on YouTube during my freshman year of high school. I experimented with eyeshadows and lipsticks, developed a detailed face routine with foundation, contour, and blush, and perfected the art that is winged eyeliner. High school was pretty fun for me: I still wasn’t skinny or as pretty as the other girls but every morning I sat in front of the mirror and studied the canvass of my face, thinking Yeah, I can work with this.
Of course, plastering one’s face every single day with cheap foundation and powders in the throes of puberty is going to be rough on anyone’s pores. My skin had never been the greatest, but throughout high school and my freshman year of college it was constantly a cycle of covering up those swelling, pus-filled bumps on my face, scraping off the makeup at the end of the day with expensive acne-fighting products and desperate hopes, then finding new inflamed bumps the very next morning. Makeup was my tool to feel human and deserving of social interaction, but what good is hammering a few nails on a wall with no foundation?
Studying abroad in high school and college did wonders for my self-esteem because I had proved to myself that I was smart and brave enough to explore the word. I lived in cities I had never even dreamed of visiting, and met and befriended people of different walks of life. But being the teenager that I was, neither intelligence nor courage sufficed. I still felt like the one in the friend group who had to be funny and outrageous to make up for what I lacked in looks. Looking back now, I can’t help but regret all the time, money, and space I wasted lugging around my makeup to different parts of the world. I would wake up in my dorm at school or whatever hostel we were staying in and rush to the bathroom to put on my face. Without the comfort of foundation, contour, and eyeliner I didn’t want others to see me, see the red mountains lining my jaw, the bulging lack-of-cheekbone, and the short and straight eyelashes that left my eyes dull.
It was after I had dropped out of NYU, started working at Starbucks while finishing school online at Arizona State, and discovered my love for the outdoors that my relationship with makeup began crumbling. At first it was sheer laziness — the early mornings and 6-8 hours of steaming milk and pouring espresso shots just didn’t seem to call for any makeup.
Then, seeing my bare face on a daily basis began to desensitize me to the insecurities I had garnered over the course of puberty and my young adult life. I found that the shape of my eyes were actually quite pretty, and that I do indeed have cheek bones. My features are not as sharp or defined as others’, but why do they have to be? After years of abusing it with pore-clogging concealers and powders, and harsh chemicals to negate the effects of the former, I began taking better care of my skin and body. In turn it thanked me by clearing up the acne that had riddled my face and self-esteem for so many years — the less makeup I wore, the more beautiful I realized I actually am.
So here I am at 23, with a full-time “big girl job” at an office and a dream to travel the world while helping others while I do it. One of the ways I want to help you is to open up a discussion about makeup and insecurities. Sure, makeup can be used as a medium for self-expression and empowerment. AOC’s iconic red lip and hoops are a way of paying homage to her Bronx background and a big “Fuck you” to those who don’t think fashionable or pretty can exist alongside intelligent and strong. Frida Kahlo was known to accentuate her unibrow and facial hair despite the ridiculous expectations that women should not grow hair anywhere besides where society has deemed appropriate. Drag queens bake and highlight and carve out impeccable eyebrows while questioning gender identities that are forced upon us by social norms. These are just a few examples of how makeup is freeing and empowering.
But when it becomes the crutch upon which one desperately leans in order to feel worthy to face the world, I’m afraid it’s the makeup that is wearing you.
I was a bit afraid of going to work without makeup, terrified that people would think I don’t take myself seriously or care how I present myself. While I do reject what society says how I should dress/act/feel/speak as a woman, I also care deeply about the image of myself that I put out into the world. But I can paint myself just as well and even better with words, action, and work as with some blush or eyeliner. So I am dumping you, makeup. As the title suggests, this is my official breakup letter.
We have had a long and complicated relationship over the past few years. I discovered you when I was young and quite vulnerable, and you embraced me with open arms and showed a side of me I had never thought to look for. Thank you for helping me find and accept my femininity, and thank you for being on fleek for so many years.
Having said this, there were parts of our journey that weren’t so great. I spent so much time and resources on you, time and resources that could have gone to things that make me feel happier. I missed out on precious sleep and countless breakfasts because I was so dedicated to you and thought you were the only thing that could help me face this world.
What I have come to realize is that I simply don’t need you anymore. I can’t say I’m sorry that I’m ending it like this, so I just want to you to know that we’ll still be friends. There are still weddings and parties in the future where I might reach for you, but only because I want you. Not because I need you.
So thanks again for making me look skinnier when I thought that was an important thing to strive for, thanks for making me feel powerful when I wore red or purple lipstick, and thanks for the fierceness I found with winged eyeliner. I am so grateful you helped me find these things, but I am beginning to realize that I can feel powerful, fierce, strong, capable, and beautiful without you.