***Blog Update***

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Hey Brains and Beauty readers and subscribers!

I just wanted to update you for a moment and let you know that I am in the middle of my last set of finals for law school (graduating on May 17th!) so I won't be posting too often over the next two weeks, but I will be taking study breaks every now and then to post a topic or two, so definitely stay tuned! I also want to thank all of the people who have chosen to subscribe to this blog. I love writing on this site, and if you would like me to talk about any particular topics relating to society, culture, beauty, women issues, or whatever, please feel free to let me know by commenting below this post!

"Still I Rise," by Maya Angelou

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The poem, "Still I Rise," by Maya Angelou, is such a powerful poem that has the uncanny ability to resonate in any soul. I have always loved the poem, but found a new appreciation for it early this morning when I tripped on her recitation of the poem on YouTube:

"Still I Rise," by Maya Angelou

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I'll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
'Cause I walk like I've got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I'll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don't you take it awful hard
'Cause I laugh like I've got gold mines
Diggin' in my own back yard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I'll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I've got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history's shame
I rise
Up from a past that's rooted in pain
I rise
I'm a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that's wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

Respect Yourself in an Age of Self-Obsession

Saturday, April 18, 2009

I believe there is a fine line between respecting yourself and obsessing over yourself. I'll focus specifically on women when I say that a lot of us love to spend too much time and money investing in our beauty and our overall appearance, sometimes to the point of unhealthy self-obsession for the purposes of gaining respect from certain people, or pleasing whatever self-imposed standard that we believe we must fit every single day. I am a big fan of taking care of oneself and investing in creative ways to play with beauty and fashion, but I definitely do not believe in self-imposed "duties" of looking a certain way or permanently changing our appearance to gain more respect in society. Women transform all the time - they straighten/perm/cut/extend/etc. their hair, lose weight, get plastic surgery, and invest a lot of time in learning the latest fashion trends out of a fear that they may be left behind the "fashion train" and subsequently left outside the scope of society's approval. As a result, we forget who we are on the inside - we forget those hidden dreams, those hidden passions, those hidden fears that we have to conquer, and those hidden desires that only we know in our hearts. As much as I love to indulge in beauty and play with makeup, I never forget the fact that I need to take time daily to grow within. I personally like to spend time growing in my faith, reading books for leisure, and writing down every thought in my mind of the moment into the pages of my journal. A woman's soul, heart and mind do not change when she buys a new lipstick color or loses ten pounds. The only thrill that those things can get you is a temporary elated feeling that has a very small chance of carrying your happiness throughout the rest of the day. On the other hand, spending time nurturing yourself and exploring your passions has such a positive impact that can last a long time, and will help you get to a new level in your life's journey. The degree to which we allow society to dictate our life is the degree to which we lose sight of our hearts, our minds, and our true desires, and I wanted to take some time this morning to tell you that no one has the right to dictate how you should live your life or feel about yourself. What matters is that you respect yourself, that you love yourself, and that you are able to look in the mirror without any clothes and/or makeup on, be able to accept everything that you see, and say: "I am enough. I am beautiful."

My Appreciation for Jeans that Don't "Gap in the Back"

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

During a large portion of my "maturing" years, I struggled with the fact that many jeans simply refused to fit my frame without “gaping” in the back – they basically did not fit the way they did when I was young girl, or the way they did on the department store mannequins. In other words - I "curved" out (not quite like J-Lo but close enough) - and eventually had to deal with the inevitable "gap" at the back of my favorite pairs of jeans and always had to wear a belt to make sure the jeans fit properly and comfortably. Of course, exercising (particularly dancing, running or doing Tae-Bo) only made it more "apple-esque," which at the time confused and frustrated me because I mistakenly assumed exercising would minimize the curve and help me fit better into the jeans at the mall. Fortunately, fashion trends have evolved and began appreciating "the curve," even going so far as to create jeans that make one's derriere much more "chunky" looking (thanks to J-Lo, Destiny's Child's "Bootylicious" song, and Sir Mix-A-Lot's classic as well). So, ironically enough - when a woman today asks, "Does my butt look big?," she may no longer be hoping for "no" as a response. I can speak for myself and tell you that if you respond to me with a “no,” it is not only an insult – it is basically a smack in the face of my Jamaican genetics.

I will honestly tell you that I increasingly accepted my “apple curve” over time, eventually realizing how many celebrities were honored for having the "apple" (Halle Berry, Tyra Banks, J-Lo, Beyonce, etc.), and becoming increasingly aware of the extent to which people were willing to create an apple of their own (either through intense exercising, implants, or the lovely cushion pads that you put in the back of your jeans to give it a “lift,” as “discretely” advertised at the back of many fashion magazines). Should I have accepted the "apple" from the beginning? Sure. But I didn’t quite understand it or really appreciate how it looked in clothing until I saw it reflected back at me as a coveted physical asset. Looking back, I know that I should have accepted the curve before the media told me it was acceptable and desirable. Today, I embrace it but I try to be as modest as possible with it while simultaneously appreciating/acknowledging the curve. For example, jeans that are way too tight are a “no-no” for me, and I always stay away from low-riders. That’s just a personal preference though. 

So, in my renewed search for better-fitting jeans within a relatively decent price range, I have narrowed my top three jeans choices down to: DKNY Skinny Jeans (fit ok), Applebottom Jeans (fit well) and PZI Jeans (fit really well). If you know of any other jeans that really work well with curves, please let me (and my other readers) know by commenting underneath this blog post. I am in love with both collections, but I am not a fan of the more intense and fluorescent color options on Applebottom's website (I am a basic blue, gray or black jean color girl). Also, some of the PZI Jeans at the Macy's in Times Square looked a bit cheap (probably just a bad sample in that Macy's store) - but I bought a classic skinny black pair on sale yesterday that looked well-made, and fit like a glove.

Although the Macy's Time Square mall did not carry them, I'm really thinking about buying the Classic Skinny Jean by PZI, as seen below:

At the age of 26, I can honestly say I have found a nice pair of jeans that does not require a belt to minimize "jeans gaping," and felt like it was made just for my body - and that was quite a relieving thing. Better late than never, right?

When a Relationship Argument Evolves Into Peace

Monday, April 13, 2009

Relationships require work, and they also require some understanding and emotional maneuvering when either minor or major difficulties come up and we have to make decisions on how to respond with our partner. I can speak from experience and tell you that I am not perfect when it comes to settling relationship arguments quickly - I have at times operated out of too much emotion rather than logic in order to support my argument or position on whatever topic happened to be the hot issue of the moment. However, with some self-analysis and increasing appreciation for maintaining as much peace as possible in all of my close relationships, I am now more able to recognize when I am operating too much out of emotion, which has definitely improved communication with my partner and the overall peace of our relationship.

I enjoyed reading this short article on Redbook Magazine's website (linked below) by a woman who decided that it was time to lay down her weapons, excuse herself from battle, and embrace peace with her partner instead of battling out an unnecessary argument:
"How to Stand Up for Yourself" (Redbook Magazine Online)
Who knew that laying down my weapons could be so gratifying?

My husband and I were fighting. This was several years ago, so I can't remember the catalyst, but I'm sure it was something trivial. In the midst of a hot summer, we had just moved from a rambling house in the country to a one-bedroom apartment in the city. Although we loved the Alsatian restaurant down the street and the lecture series at the nearby university, we found ourselves constantly tripping over each other and, worse, each other's stuff. Our formerly infrequent quarrels suddenly became a daily routine.

In the outside world, with polite acquaintances, I am not a confrontational person. But most of my ex-boyfriends would tell you that in romantic relationships I am a scrapper. I always loved that Phyllis Diller quote, "Never go to bed angry. Stay up and fight." One old flame complained that I never accepted anything less from my opponent than complete and utter surrender, and while I'm sure I argued the point, I was secretly pleased. Why should I apologize for standing up for myself? I believed — and still do — that it's one of the most important abilities a woman can possess.

But that summer, even I had to admit my penchant for battle was wearing thin. Here we stood, squabbling again, the breeze ruffling the curtains of our open windows and our voices probably disturbing the neighbors' peace. It was late afternoon, and while I wasn't ready to capitulate, I just didn't have the heart to stay up and fight. The apartment was too small for me to escape into another room. So I left, quietly closing the door behind me. For the first couple of blocks I expected my husband to come running after me. When he didn't, I thought for a moment about turning around and going back to battle. But I had already started to forget what had caused our fight in the first place. It felt so nice to be out walking, by myself, not racking my brain for the next winning point. I stopped to window-shop outside the bookstore and noticed a neon sign beckoning from a few doors down: Nail Salon. Those two little words took the fight right out of me, and I decided to get myself a pedicure.

While I sat there in the lovely, artificial cool of the salon, soaking my feet, my calves massaged and my blisters pumiced away, I thought about all the times I'd refused to budge until my opponent — my loved one — conceded victory. What, exactly, had I ever gained? And why did I feel this imperative to win? From almost the moment I'd walked out of that apartment, I had felt calm and peaceful. Like myself again. Maybe standing up for that self didn't always have to involve a fight. Maybe sometimes it required a concession. So I left a tip I couldn't afford and headed home in a glow of contrition and forgiveness.

When I got home, I found my husband giving off the very same glow. He jumped off the couch and spread his arms wide. "Where were you?" he asked. He didn't seem to notice my toes, beautifully painted "I'm Not Really a Waitress" red.

I told him I'd gone for a walk, he hugged me, and that was that. I didn't feel like I'd lost — in fact, just the opposite. Who knew that laying down my weapons could be so gratifying? Some battles, it turned out, just weren't worth staying up for — a lesson that granted me peace that night, and for all the nights that have followed.

Why “Black Love”? True Love Has No Color – Or Does It?

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama

Eva Marcille and Lance Gross 

To what degree is it really necessary to call a black couple an example of “black love”? This term (used frequently during the black power movement in the 1960s and '70s) positively acknowledges and emphasizes the beauty of love between two black people. The term has re-appeared quite a bit lately, particularly in light of the obviously intense love connection between President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama. In light of the term’s current popularity, I can’t help but wonder if it is really necessary to support any particular “type” – or shall I say – “race” – of love. On some level, I can understand that some people want to celebrate the beauty of black love in the face of increasing numbers of interracial relationships (particularly between blacks and whites), but I can honestly say that I am troubled by the idea of anyone limiting their choice of a partner by the color of one’s skin. When my boyfriend (who is black/African-American) and I talked about the topic of black love and interracial dating, we both acknowledged the fact that we would have chosen to date each other despite whatever race we happened to be, because we fell in love with each other’s hearts, spirits, minds, personalities, characters, etc., not necessarily the skin color. Do I find his skin color absolutely wonderful? Yes – I am in love with his delicious shade of brown. And do I find black men particularly attractive? Yes I do. But have I ever limited my dating options to only black men? No, I have not. However, I will honestly say that there is something to be said about having intimate and intellectual discussions with my partner on topics such as racism or minority issues in this country and abroad. Black men are not the only people who are able to contribute to such discussion topics – but in my experience, they have always had some really deep insight into race relations (due to both their personal experiences as well as the experiences of their family and peers) that I have always found refreshing. My boyfriend and I are able to have deep discussions about culture and race while acknowledging that it is absolutely impossible to limit any particular cultural, religious, ethnic or racial group into any specific thinking pattern or mindset, which contributes to healthy and deep conversations between the two of us. As a first-generation American (my family is from Jamaica), my thoughts on race and my personal experiences as a black woman in this country sometimes contrast with my boyfriend’s experiences as an African-American male whose family roots back to American slavery and whose family relations are spread out all over the country - but we love to agree to disagree, contributing very different viewpoints and stories on some very sensitive issues relating to racial/ethnic relations.

Having written my cultural anthropology thesis at Harvard College (years ago) on interracial dating, I feel somewhat entitled to contribute some opinion on this somewhat controversial topic. Although I do not plan to share the intimate accounts from that thesis in this current blog post, I will say that many people (more people than you may believe) are socially trained not to consider dating outside of their race, and that is such a sad realization. I have heard people from various racial backgrounds say that they would love to date someone of another race but they don’t know how that person would be received by their family and peers and therefore don’t want to deal with the potential hassle. I have also heard people jump to the conclusion that someone from another race probably has different viewpoints and perspectives on life that they would not even be able to get along or find anything in common as a couple. Despite increasing numbers of interracial couples, there are plenty of people out there who are nervous about approaching a man or woman of another race, and I am very much looking forward to this social fear dissipating from America’s consciousness and subconsciousness (easier said than done, considering the country's tumultuous and horrifying history of race relations). America may be a “cultural melting pot,” but unfortunately the “brew” in the pot only tends to really mix for the most part between 9am to 5pm on weekdays, and then after hours are comprised of mostly racially monogamous get-togethers and social gatherings. When we answer “yes” to the question, “can't we all just get along?,” that “yes” requires some effort to really understand and educate yourself on the “other,” be open-minded to “the other,” and feel comfortable having a real conversation with “the other.” Until that happens more often, the occasional and sometimes subtle distaste for interracial relations will unfortunately continue to linger like an uninvited but nevertheless present “elephant in the room,” and potentially prevent the formation of a lot of great relationships.

True love does not have a color – it may just have a preference, which, in my opinion, is totally fine. I may have a preference for black men, but I do find men of all races and ethnicities attractive and have always been open-minded to dating them. A white man can have a preference for blonds, but that does not automatically preclude him from finding an Indian woman very appealing. A black man may have a preference for Chinese women, but that does not stop him from appreciating the glow of a beautiful black woman. From my perspective, there should be no social rules as to who we should or should not date, but they do exist like a strong, invisible and forceful undercurrent underneath an otherwise smooth-flowing river. I really do believe that every person should sit back and think about whether or not they are truly only attracted to a certain group – or if they don’t feel comfortable dating outside certain racial groups due to a fear of social stigmatization. In my opinion, society’s opinion of your love life and the matters of your heart should not matter in the least. Do you really want society telling you who should or should not enter your bedroom? I hope not! What should really matter is whether or not that person, regardless of race, really makes your heart beat faster when you see them, that you enjoy their company when they are around, and that you both have a workable relationship vibe that is able to stand the test of both good and bad times. Superficially-based and socially-constructed relationships are flawed from the outset – we need to move past the “rules” and forget about whether or not a couple is representative of “Black love,” “White love,” or “Asian love,” and just focus on the fact that the couple is representative of the key word that binds them both: love. It may sound really cheesy, but when all is said and done, your heart knows no color. Perhaps the frustration of today’s current dating scene could ease up if people let their hearts rule, and put their minds and the social constructions buried within, to rest.

Stressed? Why Not Meditate?

Meditation really is one of the best ways to just "get away" when you can't jump on a plane and escape to Tahiti. I've always been a type-A personality, so as a result I've been intrigued by ways to take a break, relax, and center myself. As a law student, I found it even more important to take mental breaks and just simply tune out, rather than constantly "being on" and buzzing around from assignment to assignment without a real rest. I know some of you may also be thinking about the benefits of meditation, but you're not sure how to get into it. Here is some advice on how to incorporate meditation into your everyday life: (excerpt below courtesy of Mayoclinic.com in an article entitled "Meditation: Take a stress-reduction break wherever you are")

Everyday ways to practice meditation
Here are some ways you can practice meditation on your own, whenever you choose. Take a few minutes or as much time as you like.

Breathe deeply. This technique is good for beginners because breathing is a natural function. Focus all attention on your breathing. Concentrate on feeling and listening as you inhale and exhale through your nostrils. Breathe deeply and slowly. When you feel your attention wander, gently return your focus to your breathing.

Scan your body. When using this technique, focus attention on different parts of your body. Become aware of your body's various sensations, whether that's pain, tension, warmth or relaxation. Combine body scanning with breathing exercises and imagine breathing heat or relaxation into and out of different parts of your body.

Repeat a sacred name or phrase. A mantra is the name of a sacred deity or a sacred phrase that you repeat silently or aloud. You can create your own mantra. Mantras are the building blocks of transcendental meditation. Examples of religious mantras include a Jesus prayer in the Christian tradition, the holy name of God in Judaism, or the Om mantra of Hinduism, Buddhism and other Eastern religions.

Walking meditation. Combining a walk with meditation is an efficient and healthy way to relax. You can use this technique anywhere you're walking — in a tranquil forest, on a city sidewalk or at the mall. When you use this method, slow down the pace of walking so that you can focus on each movement of your legs or feet. Don't focus on a particular destination. Concentrate on your legs and feet, repeating action words in your mind such as lifting, moving and placing as you lift each foot, move your leg forward and place your foot on the ground.

Engage in prayer. Prayer is the best known and most widely practiced example of meditation. Spoken and written prayers are found in most faith traditions. You can pray using your own words or read prayers written by others. Check the self-help or 12-step-recovery section of your local bookstore for examples. Talk with your rabbi, priest, pastor or other spiritual leader about resources.

Read or listen and take time to reflect. Many people report that they benefit from reading poems or sacred texts silently or aloud, and taking a few moments to quietly reflect on the meaning that the words bring to mind. You can listen to sacred music, spoken words or any music you find relaxing or inspiring. You may want to write your reflections in a journal or discuss them with a friend or spiritual leader.

Focus your love and gratitude. In this type of meditation, you focus your attention on a sacred object or being, weaving feelings of love and gratitude into your thoughts. You can also close your eyes and use your imagination or gaze at representations of the object.

Just a note: I would encourage you to really think about the time of day when you can take some time to yourself to practice meditation and find out which meditation style works best for you. Even if you have to wake up a half hour earlier in the mornings, or turn off late night television and instead practice meditation, you will definitely feel the mental/psychological benefits after incorporating it into your daily lifestyle.

A Moment of Encouragement

Monday, April 6, 2009

The video below may be gospel song, but I really do believe that many of my readers (who may or may not be Christian) will be encouraged and lifted up by this inspiring song. In times like these, I think it is always a good thing to contribute a joyful note and lift up those that are dealing with various obstacles and need an encouraging word:

Don't Let Anyone Steal Your Beauty: Commentary on Self-Esteem Part 1

Sunday, April 5, 2009

On an episode of the Tyra Show last week (the show that featured the "Psychic Twins"), a girl admitted that the reason why she chose to date a particular guy (who she now suspected was cheating on her) was due to the fact that he flattered her and made her feel beautiful. In particular, she mentioned that she struggled with accepting her dark skin for a long time and that he made her feel beautiful. I automatically noted that comment in my mind, sensing its blog-worthiness, especially for my readers out there that sometimes feel insecure about their beauty or struggle with a particular physical feature that they had been teased about, or that they feel does not measure up to a beauty standard out there in the world today. I seriously wanted to pause the show, jump through the television to the stage and tell her: "Don't let anyone steal your beauty!" I've stated this time and time again on my blog, but I really don't put any limitations on reiterating the point because society does a great enough job at forcing insecurities down women's throats on a daily basis. So why not balance it out?

Ever since I started making the videos on YouTube and blogging, I've received some direct messages from young women who told me about some intense experiences in their childhood and/or adult life and as a result struggle with their self-esteem every single day. Now, I am going to be real with you and tell you that I, along with countless women, had to work on overcoming my own insecurities - which is why I feel entitled to provide others with some real advice on how to counter whatever self-esteem issues they may deal with everyday.

Society, predominately via the media, encourages women to be aesthetically perfect, or get as close to the "ideal" as possible. As a result, many of us slave over music, magazines, newspapers, internet links and television shows that reinforce the ideal, subconsciously convincing ourselves of a standard that we must conform to or unfortunately result in eventual imperfection. Some women feed off of their own insecurities and judge others that do not conform to the "ideal", and label them as regrettably imperfect and in need of some serious (fill in the blank - e.g. dieting, makeup, plastic surgery, hair styling, etc.).

We choose to absorb this idea of a "standard" to the point of psychological self-harm, opting to damage our otherwise strong sense of selves in order to receive societal approval. The ironic side to this story is the fact that society really never completely approves of anybody. Even Barbie has to reinvent herself in order to keep up with society's incessant, evolving and never-ending concept of ideal beauty. Like Barbie, many women in Hollywood also fight for perfection, requesting some of the most expensive and risky treatments in the name of beauty, and even then find themselves quite annoyed if they are not properly airbrushed in a photo in a magazine. And yet non-celebrity women idolize celebrity women as if they are perfect - and neither group can ever reach it because the standard is an elusive one meant to keep you reaching for something that will require a lot of time and money in order to attain - if you choose to buy into the standard.

Many of you will see where I am going with this post. But what I am about to say is not anything new - in fact, you probably already believe it. The biggest motivation for society's perpetuation of a beauty ideal is to maintain the success of the billion dollar beauty industry worldwide. Everyday, we are inundated with messages from makeup companies, stores, and brand name luxury goods that tell us - you will be one step closer to your ideal self if you indulge in these products and make them a part of your identity. As a result, we choose to make many purchases in the name of identity enhancement, convincing ourselves that we can buy our self-esteem and take one step above the rest in the race entitled "I am Better than You." The intriguing aspect of this race is - it is only real to the extent that we individually choose to participate in it. And the extent to which you choose not to participate is the extent to which your identity is independent of the beauty standard.

Of course, self-esteem independent of society approval is easier said than done. When inundated with messages re: perfection, sometimes it is easier to indulge and give in rather than resist. I choose to appreciate the marketing tactics and the messages on a very superficial level, taking what I want from them and rejecting what I don't care for. To give you a real example, I tune in and tune out certain commercials. For example, when I see a mascara commercial, I'll tune in and listen and watch the commercial, knowing full well that the company is trying as hard as possible to get my attention, make me pick up my purse, and run to the beauty counter to pick up their latest lengthening mascara (and of course, the model in the commercial is wearing fake eyelashes so that doesn't exactly provide a realistic example for me anyway). But I sometimes appreciate the attempt and may look at the product in the store or look for a product review on YouTube to see what people really think about it. On the other hand, when I see commercials about a weight-loss pill or some magic dieting plan, I immediately tune out. Why? We live in a dieting-obsessed culture, and I have never been interested in being very thin. I instead prefer to just stay in shape, try to eat healthy (with the occasional junk food binge), and appreciate my body by wearing certain clothes that complement my shape. At the end of day, I am more than thrilled to be a woman, and like experimenting with fashion and makeup without being TOLD that I have to conform to a certain trend or image. In other words - I am very stubborn with the messages I choose to absorb/not absorb. And some of my dear friends tend to be just as stubborn in their own ways.

Which is why I encourage you to invest some energy in finding out what sort of messages are contributing to the growth of your self-confidence as well as the destruction of your self-esteem (leading to insecurities). In my opinion, that is step number 1 to building up your sense of self, independent of whatever society may have to say about who you are/what you are/what you should be.

This is quite a long post on this topic so I will post more about self-esteem in future blog posts, so definitely stay tuned. Insightful comments are welcome! :)

My Youtube Video on Windproof Relaxed Hair

Saturday, April 4, 2009