Monthly Archives: December 2009

All I want for Christmas is Self-Esteem

Its hard to be a girl these days, harder than it is for a pimp.  If I was a pre-teen now and I had to look at images of women in tge media, I’m not sure how I’d turn out.  So many things work against female self-esteem it’s a wonder the US produces any well-adjusted women.  I’ve been thinking about this for a long time, or at least since the last time I saw my goddaughter.   Early in the AM on the day after Thanksgiving, or some morning that weekend, my goddaughter got into my bed and woke me up.  She’s 11-years-old, but hasn’t quite gotten to that ‘tween “don’t touch me” phase, so she kind of flops all over you.  Its quite sweet once you’re awake, but I digress.  We chatted briefly until she touched my hair and said something like “yuck” or “ewww,” after which she decreed that my hair was nicer before (in braided extensions, or straight and shoulder length).  Huh.

Now I’ll admit that at such an early hour, the Afro was not its most spherical and needed desperately to be picked.  Usually I take umbrage at referring to my hair in pejorative terms, since its healthy and growing and has neat-o little ringlets.  In this particular case, I couldn’t argue with my goddaughter since she doesn’t really know what naturally-textured hair feels like.  Her mother, aunt and grandmother wear relaxers.  She goes to a multi-ethnic school with kids of all cultures and hair types.  Even her brother and father wear closely-cropped hair, so she has virtually no occasion to encounter Black hair as it grows from the scalp.   Still, her reaction to the feel of my hair really hurt, but not because I took it personally. In judging my kinks, she was also judging herself, and I wanted so much more for her.

Why do girls and women hate ourselves so much?  When did it all go so horribly awry?  I blame Hollywood, and by “Hollywood” I mean the entertainment industry.  When I heard of the tragic death of Brittney Murphy (yes, that’s how you spell her name) this week, my first thought was: anorexia-induced heart failure.  She may have had H1N1, and she did suffer from Type 2 Diabetes.  But you can’t deny her dramatic weight loss after Girl, Interrupted, which is weight she really couldn’t afford to lose.  A little working out, sure, and some toning up for definition.  But pointy shoulder blades, protruding elbow joints and thighs the same size as your calves don’t say, “I’m eating healthy now,” they say “I have an eating disorder.”

The problem is that we don’t talk about eating disorders among actresses anymore because, apparently, a star’s weight is nobody’s business.  Except that when you prance your emaciated body around on TV, and you say you look that way because of “diet and Pilates”, you make it everyone’s business.  I have lots of friends who act, and all of the have been told by agents and casting directors that they need to lose weight in order to get work.  And they’re not voluptuously Size 16-and-Sexy like me! They’re Size 6 women, and men with 32-inch waists, who work out and eat right and apparently need to start starving or get lipo for career advancement.  Have you ever seen a TV actor up close?  A lot of them are good-looking, but I’ve never seen so many sunken eye-sockets in my life.  They all look like lollipops, big heads on abnormally-small bodies.  Like it hurts to sit down because they’re so bony.  But on screen they look beautiful, and aspirational, and have completely normal results that can only be achieved through abnormal means.  There’s no way I’m gonna raise a girl to believe that heroin-chic is natural, or that Tyra Banks’ “real” hair just comes out of her head all straight like that.  Imagine the disappointment when their body and hair and life don’t turn out like the people on TV?

Unfortunately, I don’t think we have to imagine a generation of women raised hating themselves because that generation is here and they’re on reality TV.  The onslaught of stupid women doing stupid things on TV is astounding to me, but not as incredible as the fact that so-called “women’s” networks are responsible for publicizing the worst of our sex.  I’m going to single out “Bad Girls’ Club” as the worst of the culprits, since it glorifies the insipid behavior the show is supposed to prevent.  Here’s an idea:  find the most self-centered, materialistic, self-hating 20-something women who are prone to violence, and put them in a house together with liquor, cameras, and shit-else to do.  Of course, they’ll all magically learn to control their tempers, start sharing make-up tips and doing each others’ hair, right?  And then they’ll wax eloquent about their behavior, making profound confessions about becoming productive people and having healthy relationships.  Yeah, I don’t think so.  At least Celebrity Rehab has a clinician.  Oxygen just has limos and admission to the VIP section of some bar/lounge/club on the Sunset Strip which, in my experience, is far more conducive to self-awareness than some time on the therapy couch.   At this point, I don’t know what’s worse:  a TV network for women pretending to help anyone with this farce, when all they’re no better than Joe Francis and “Girls Gone Wild”;  a cadre of young women willingly acting a damn fool on international video for outcomes that remain, at least to me, undetermined; or the viewing public of women (and men) who promote this kind of behavior by watching, and tweeting, and blogging about how funny the show is.

Maybe I’m missing something, or I’m a killjoy, or there’s a 65-year-old church woman trapped in my hot 30-something body.  Does anybody else see what’s wrong?

Silence is deadly

As generally happens when a celebrity dies suddenly, the vultures (read: tabloid speculators) have begun circling over Brittany Murphy (again, the right way to spell her name, look it up).  The latest fodder for gossip is her use of prescription drugs, among them Klonopin, Atavan, Fluoxetine, Vicoprofen and Propranolol.  When you rattle off a bunch of pharmaceutical names in a row like that, it seems rather ominous.  Why was she taking all those?  Did she overdose?  Did Brittany’s doctors cause her death?  What nefarious scheme was afoot at Casa de Murphy and Monjack (her husband) to support the continued abuse of narcotics?  Before we get off on a tangent, I’m gonna make this drama simpler, if not less dramatic.

Hollywood is a lot like the rest of the world, though writ large for everyone to see.  Whatever actors and musicians and non-specified celebrities do pretty much mirrors what we “regular people” do in our own lives.  We all hide what we don’t want seen.  The average person hides medicines in a drawer when company comes, safe from the prying eyes of those who just must peek in the medicine cabinet.  You know you’ve done it.  Or we see a shrink in another town so nobody we know will see us going in or coming out.  Or we travel under pseudonyms and have or assistants fetch our prescriptions so TMZ doesn’t find out what we’re taking.  Or we just lie and keep secrets and hope certain things about ourselves never come up.  No matter who’s doing it, or how much money, power and influence they wield, it’s still subterfuge.  And it may be killing us.

Here’s what I think about poor Ms. Murphy.  She had diabetes, which is “documented”.  She suffered from some kind of body image issue, which is sadly de rigueur among young starlets.  She probably had bipolar disorder, according to the anti-anxiety and antidepressant medications in her possession.  I’m a little fuzzy on the rest of her condition…perhaps she had a heart problem, and/or an addiction to pain medication.  Or she had surgery and needed narcotics from a few different doctors so the tabloids wouldn’t report it as addition.  I would wager that Brittany needed some time on “the inside”, not drug rehab, but some kind of psychiatric facility.  Of course going to rehab is like going on vacation in LA, so much so that we watch people do it on TV shows.  But checking into a mental ward is verboten, just ask Mischa Barton, whose 5150 psych hold earlier this year was blamed on some bad dental work.  Uh-huh, blame it on the No-No-No-No-No-Novocain.

At this most wonderful time of the year, we should stop judging people, least of all those about whom we know so little.  We should also start fessing up about our own shortcomings, likely a source of our criticism of others.  Celebrities are easy targets because they seem so untouchable, so “perfect” that we have a hard time believing they could have real problems.  Stand back because I’m getting on my soapbox again.  Many people criticized Maia Campbell’s erratic behavior caught on tape this year.  Message boards said things like “she’s a crack whore” and called her terrible names.  The truth is, Campbell – like her late mother, author Bebe Moore Campbell – has bipolar disorder and was very much out of treatment this year when a sick-minded man exploited her condition on videotape and on the Internet.  The truth is also that Maia was on drugs, and she was selling her body to numb the pain of her own disease, or of her mother’s death, or whatever human emotion was so unbearable it needed to disappear, but quick.  Ready for some more truth:  you’ve been there too, where it hurts so badly you don’t think you can make it another second.  Fortunately, nobody was there with a camera, or a videotape, or a recorder poised to make money off your pain.

By the way, what secrets would we find in your medicine cabinet?

Almost sorta counts: a cheater’s story

This week, everyone I know is on a “cheetah” kick, talking about Tiger and Kobe and Shaq and all the other Black athletes who stepped out on their wives (Yeah, TW is a Black man, just ask anyone but him).  And once we start taking about some creeping men, the conversation turns to why Black men ain’t no damn good, and whether women actually cheat.  For my answer to the first part of that discussion, please see my Twitter feed, since I’ve gone on at great lengths regarding the topic.  If you agree with me, use the hashtag #iluvblackmen so we can displace the man-hating with some positivity.  As for the second inevitable outcropping of male celebrity infidelity, I offer my personal testimony.  That’s right kids, it’s confession time again.

I almost cheated on a boyfriend.

We’ll deal with the “almost” part later, it’s the part before the “almost” that’s the most important.  I was seeing a guy that I really liked, or so I thought.  He was smart, successful, funny and cute in a geeky kinda way.  Geeks are definitely hot; on our first date we had brunch at Odeon, a visit to the SoHo Apple store, and coffee in the West Village.  Then he talked about how programming was like writing music and he had me.  Looks-wise, a 6′4″ cross between Carlton Banks and Adam Sandler.  Don’t judge me!  Anyway, we were very much alike in ways I thought were important:  smart Black folks, only children, from Ivy-League schools with decent parents and extra large ambitions.  He was an Internet entrepreneur, which I admired.  My dad always had a side hustle when I was growing up, which I know has shaped my perception of men and work.  So I was pretty happy dating a fella who’d made some pretty good money never having worked for someone else.  Initially.

In spite of my boyfriend’s admirable qualities, he had some traits that were unacceptable to me.  He’s got no EQ, which is common among tech nerds who spend their entire day alone behind a computer screen.  And if your office is your house, you’ve no reason to tune into others for the sake of workplace dynamics.  So if I cried in front of the brother (it happened once, when my best friend died), he’d look around uncomfortably like he wanted to disappear through the floorboards.  Plus he worked all the time, would hop out of the bed and head right to the computer.  Ever see a man writing code in tighty-whiteys and socks?  It’s a look, and not entirely a bad one either, but annoying nonetheless.  Then there began the not spending time together because he was testing, or meeting with funders, or hadn’t left the house in a week because he was on some kind of adrenaline-inspired programming roll.

You probably know that when you’re seeing someone you want to actually see them, and I’m no exception.  I knew something was wrong with the relationship but I made excuses.  I talked to my dad, who dispatched the sage wisdom that if a man wants to see you, he’ll make time no matter how busy he is.  That’s real talk, but I hemmed and hawed.  And the following Saturday night when my boy didn’t want to get together, I decided to tie one on with my best girlfriend.  We drank.  And drank some more.  And I challenged guys to arm-wrestle me in my special, flirtatious way.  As they say in professional poker, I was on tilt; having lost a really big emotional pot with my steady, I was betting some pretty big stakes on a barful of strangers.  I was feeling alone and neglected, and tried to smooth the rough spots by sticking my tongue down some guy’s throat.  Then we went back to my place, he vomited on the rug, and the incident became yet another story for the book.  But I still feel guilty because I know what I wanted to happen, and it wasn’t mopping some stranger’s regurgitated dinner off the floor.

Now lots of people would say “it didn’t mean anything” because I was drunk, we “only” kissed or whatever. Then there’s the ever-popular sex vs. love justification for a dalliance.  But the actions aren’t as meaningful as the feelings behind them.  My boyfriend wasn’t giving me something that I needed (attention, companionship on Saturday night), and I went looking for it somewhere else.  Maybe I had so much beer because I didn’t want to be responsible – I’m smart enough to know that drinking lowers one’s inhibitions, and low inhibitions means doing something you want to do anyway.  And I could’ve stopped drinking at any time, or stayed at home that night, or seen a movie with my girlfriend instead of venturing into an Upper East Side watering hole known for its cute bartenders and single male clientele. What I really should’ve done is called old dude and told him that I needed to see him, I felt neglected, I wasn’t happy, I needed some lovin’.  Bottom line:  I wasn’t happy, I was too much of a punk to talk about it with my man, and I decided to be all passive-aggressive instead.

My experience is why I’m pretty critical of cheating, and why I believe people know what they’re doing before they get into anything.  I’m not saying folks intend to cheat, but they intend to ignore the voice inside them that says, “this isn’t the best idea” so they don’t have to take responsibility for their actions.   We’re really good at lying to ourselves, especially when the truth would make us feel guilty or wrong or just plain stupid.  So if you find yourself on the brink of doing some shady relationship nonsense, listen for a voice.  And definitely avoid that next beer.

To cheat, perchance, to…nope, just cheat

We’re in Day 6  of “Tiger-gate” and I’ve had enough.  He was the lead-in on the news last night.  Okay, so I was watching Fox, but still!  A celebrity cheated on his wife.  For years with various women.  Is this a shock to anyone?  With good reason, said wife took a golf club to his head and his car.  The jump-off cashed in on a voice-mail message for a cool $25,000 (she should have held out for more).  All parties are so sorry.  End of story for the public if not for the involved parties.

But an aphorism my mother often used keeps running through my head:  Cheaters never prosper.  Apparently they do, because even Kobe can have (alleged) illegal “transgressions” with a woman, keep his wife and get a few NBA rings.  Pardon me while I use another choice phrase of which my mother was quite fond: Ain’t that some shit?

Now don’t get me wrong: I couldn’t possibly care less what happens in someone else’s relationship.  Unless I know you, in which case I care about you but still don’t pass opinion on grown folks’ business.  And I realize that public scrutiny is rough on an individual, and a family, and its particularly difficult when you do something wrong and your family has to pay for it.  But here’s a novel idea:  keep your ass at home and keep your pants zipped and there won’t be any mess.

Other than our starfucker fascination with celebrity, the Tiger Woods incident has brought out lots of equivocating and joking from the peanut gallery.  Facebook and Twitter are, well, atwitter with people complaining that all men cheat, or bemoaning the lack of role models, or making excuses for the many athletes who step out on their wives.  But I have no tolerance for that crap, and nobody ever puts it out there, so I’ll do it.  Cheating is wrong, and cheaters suck. Yes, I said it, and I’ll say it again.  Elin Woods had the right idea: all cheaters should be beaten about the head with sports equipment or put on blast in a public forum.  There is no justification for cheating beyond “I’m a dumb-ass” or “I clearly lost my mind.”  If you want to play the field, stay single.  If you believe that, to paraphrase Chris Rock, there’s no piece like a new piece, STAY SINGLE.  Or break up and pursue the new thing.  Or be in an open relationship.  My point is that its very easy not to sleep with other people when you’re otherwise entangled.

Since I’ve never been married, people will dismiss my views on fidelity because I’ve never been “there”, in the face of some outside piece of ass or extra-marital association.  They’ll say that I don’t know what it’s like to be bored with a partner.  But I do know what boredom is.  I like chicken and its kinda boring.  If I eat it a frequently I get sick of it and I want, say, a bacon cheeseburger.  I know where to get a really good cheeseburger, one that’s juicy and flavorful and always cooked the way I like it.  But I’m cutting back on red meat, I need to lose weight, and it would be cheaper to cook the chicken breasts I already have in the freezer.  Know what I do?  I find some new chicken recipes.  I marinate it or stuff it or cook it in a paper bag because I know its better for me than beef in the long run.  After not eating beef for a while, a burger will make me sick, kinda like I’d be if I stepped out on my man.  It might feel good for a moment, but the fallout would be a bitch!

Now if everyone could give the same consideration to their mate that I give to a piece of chicken, perhaps we’d be a more faithful society.  What do you think?

All I Know I Learned from The Golden Girls

Today the New York State Senate voted 38-24 against gay marriage, which got no Republican support.  Tom Duane, our first openly-gay Senator (that I campaigned for when I was in high school, thank you very much) spoke publicly in chambers about his personal life.  Others spoke about their history of working against all kinds of discrimination.  My cousin is the Clerk for the NYS Senate, so I’ll get the full run-down when she comes to visit, and I’ll likely learn that my state representative voted against the bill.

But I digress.

In today’s session, State Senators talked about their personal relationships with gay individuals.   They invoked some good heartstrings-pulling in order to persuade their colleagues to vote for equality.  However I think that they should’ve aired a few episodes of NBC’s classic sitcom The Golden Girls to bring their point home.  In general, humor disarms people to the point that they can learn something, or maybe rethink an opinion.  This tactic was employed with great success over 7 seasons of Girls, and they covered many really important topics without losing the comedic appeal of the show:  addiction, homelessness, AIDS, euthanasia and interracial marriage are but a few issues that Dorothy, Blanche, Rose and Sophia wrestled with on prime-time television.  But the show’s treatment of homosexuality covered more than one episode, and produced a recommendation for gay marriage a full 18 years before our lawmakers would debate the issue.

In its first foray into homosexuality, The Golden Girls introduced a lesbian character – Jean, a friend of Dorothy’s – who falls in love with Rose.  In this episode, Sophia provides the voice of tolerance and acceptance: “I never understood what the big deal is?  Jean likes girls instead of boys.  Some people like cats instead of dogs.  Personally I’d rather live with a lesbian than a cat.”  Good stuff, isn’t it?

Later in the show’s history, Girls featured Blanche’s brother Clayton who came out to his sister in an episode called “Scared Straight”.  His being gay was kind of a non-issue, except for Blanche who really couldn’t reconcile Clay’s past womanizing image with his admitted sexuality.  After the requisite foibles, Blanche promises to support her baby brother.  Clayton returns to Miami in another episode (”Sisters of the Bride”) to introduce the roommates to his fiance, Doug; Blanche is none too pleased, and the same-sex jokes ensue while she tries to keep her brother’s sexual proclivities a secret.  The episode culminates with a discussion on why gays wanted marriage.  The turning point comes when Blanche remembers why she wanted to marry her husband: “We loved each other.  We wanted to be together.”  Again, Sophia provides the pro-gay response, “Doesn’t your brother deserve the same thing?” after which Blanche tells Clay “I can’t say I understand what you’re doing, but I do understand why you’re doing it.”

So all I’m saying is, the next time you’re feeling intolerant or hateful or frustrated and looking for some “minority” group to take it out on, instead tune in to The Golden Girls.  Then you’ll see a bunch of 60-year-old women who were more progressive in 1989 than you are now, and you may be humored into changing your mind.

Celibate much?

Since today is World AIDS Day, in honor of the only 100% effective way to prevent the spread of the disease, I’m coming out:  I’ve been celibate for over 1 year.  Someone should applaud or throw me a party or something.  To be clear, I’m not in the middle of a drought, looking for a willing participant and unable to find one.   I’ve had offers, and I’ve turned them down because I’m just not that interested.

Before you go off all half-cocked and think that I’m some sexless killjoy, you should know that I’ve had lots of sex, and the vast majority of it was quite good.  At this point, I think I can claim some kind of statistical significance and say that I’ve had some of the best sex in the Tri-State area.  Hold on for a minute, I’m reminiscing. . . . . . . . .But back to my original point, I’ve had my fair share of good partners and everyone enjoyed themselves, thanks for asking.  Sure, I’ve had some duds like every sexually-active woman my age, but the discovery of a few unskilled lovers wasn’t what put me off my game.

Sex is serious stuff.  It can be fun, and funny, and entertaining and – with any luck – exciting and highly enjoyable for all parties.  But the solemnity takes over when it’s done.  Someone could get hurt, like if you sleep with someone you love, and they don’t love you back.  Come on, ladies, if you look deep you’ve probably been there.  Someone could get pregnant, and sometimes that’s a joy and a blessing, sometimes pregnancy is surprising and unwanted.   Someone could get a disease, like the kind that you have forever.  I don’t know about you, but I think herpes totally sucks and you can’t get rid of it, but hapless paramours neglect it all the time and give each other the gift that keeps on giving.  Way to share!  Then there’s AIDS, which will kill you in spite of what it’s done for Magic Johnson.  Some of us don’t have his luck or his money, so we’d have to deal with insurance companies (don’t get me started) and unsympathetic employers (you saw Philadelphia) and the pain of knowing that someone with whom we made “love” bestowed upon us a most unloving of souvenirs.

Anyway, some time ago I decided that I’d had enough sex for the moment; I have arousing memories, warm thoughts and hilarious stories to last until the next time.  I also have my health, and the knowledge that even though I may have been stupid with my heart, I was smart with my body and didn’t have unprotected sex.  For you guys out there, I’m gonna go ahead and say that sex with a condom isn’t as annoying as is pain upon urination or something that could kill you.  Yeah, I’m not that original, but some lines are just classic: no glove, no love.

And the next time I have sex, no matter how far in the future that may be (YIKES!), it will involve a man with whom I want to have all manner of seriousness.