Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Please, Steubenville

To be honest, I have had no desire to write about the events in Steubenville. When I heard about it, I immediately wanted to forget it. But every time I tried to bury it, someone with a shovel came along and dug it back up via Facebook status. This piece in particular, posted by a friend, got me thinking.

Rollins asks a lot of questions He basically asks why did the Steubenville boys think that what they were doing was okay. Rollins seemed content to speculate, or to let others speculate. Personally, I have an answer.

Why did the Steubenville boys think what they did was okay?


"Wait a minute," you might say. "How do you know they view porn?"
Because when a researcher at the University of Montreal recently tried to do a comparative study on young men who view porn and young men who don't, he could not find any young men who do not view porn. The likelihood that the Steubenville boys regularly view porn is extremely high.

I honestly think this is a case of monkey see, monkey do. What else can we expect as a society? Porn is not just about sex anymore. It's not just a harmless erotic past time. Porn conveys destructive messages about power, aggression, violence, and sexual objects and subjects. Porn images are violent and misogynistic, not fun and sexy.

In the musical The Little Shop of Horrors, a young man named Seymour acquires a mysterious plant. He finds out that the plant thrives on human blood. He feeds the plant--first with his own blood. But the plant grows and requires more and more. Seymour ends up killing other people to feed to the plant. Despite the deadliness of the plant, Seymour cannot resist it. In the end, the plant consumes Audrey, whom Seymour loves, and finally Seymour himself.

The musical is a dark comedy, but there is nothing comedic about pornography. When the seeds of porn are being constantly planted, nourished, and watered in young men, it's no surprise when Little Shop of Horrors-like monstrosities rear up and consume young men, young women, and their whole communities.

What can be done? As the musical implores, don't feed the plants. Don't watch porn. Don't accept porn viewing by your loved ones. Don't accept porn viewing by young men. As long as porn is the norm, Steubenville will continue to happen over, and over, and over--whether or not there's video evidence.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Please, caste system

There is a caste system in this country. Oddly, there are only two castes in it--a high caste and a low caste. The low caste is so despised that you will never, ever see a published picture of someone from it. You will never see them on TV. You will never see them in a movie. You won't see a member of this caste smiling back at you from a "Look-see-how-diverse-our-campus-is" college advertisement. Members of this caste may even be afraid to be seen in Youtube videos, so you might not see them there. They certainly have no representatives in Congress, and I am willing to bet low caste members have no representatives in any legislative body, down to the most local level.

The pressure to leave this caste is higher for women than for men, but neither gender prefers to be in it. At, there is even a special fact sheet about how to get out of the caste. As far as I could find, there is no equivalent fact sheet for men. Occasionally, a female celebrity will admit that she used to be a member of this caste--usually only when she's being paid to admit it.

Low caste individuals will try to edit pictures so you can't tell which caste they're in--that is, if they're comfortable having their picture taken at all. Low caste individuals are obsessed with trying to change their caste. Morning, noon, and night they are desperately working. They will do anything, try anything, endure any drug. Before they even leave the house in the morning, low caste people will do everything they can to hide their caste so they aren't ashamed at work or school. The only time you may see low caste individuals completely unedited is in Sylvester McMonkey McBean-like advertisements that promote magical products that can change your caste. But even in caste-changing advertisements, you still may only see members of the high caste portrayed. The low caste is just that repulsive. Nobody, nobody wants to see these people. Nobody wants to photograph them. They can't be models even for products marketed to their caste.

If you're in the low caste, studies show you might seriously struggle with self-esteem (naturally), and that you will have trouble rising in any given career field. Job interviews are stacked against you. You may have a hard time socially, and you may find a love life difficult/elusive. The low caste is universally despised.

Do you know what I'm talking about yet? If you still don't know, I'll give you some hints. I'm not talking about a race. I'm not talking about a weight class. I'm not talking about a sexual orientation. I'm not talking about a specific religion.

I am talking about people with serious acne. Not just the occasional pimple, but the angry, painful, face and/or body covering kind. The kind that is there day-in, day-out. The kind that scars you, body and soul.

If you have had or currently have serious acne, you know exactly what I'm talking about. If you've known me for a long time, you probably know that I have had serious acne, both in my teens and in my twenties. Currently, I am not struggling with acne, which is maybe why I feel okay enough to write about it. If you have never dealt with serious are truly, truly fortunate.

When you have serious acne, there is no way you can feel like you are physically beautiful. In popular culture, overweight people can  beautiful. People with a variety of diseases can be beautiful. Amputees can be beautiful. People with extensive scarring and burns from accidents can be beautiful (like Stephanie Nielson). People with blood, gore, and open wounds on their faces can be beautiful. But never people with acne. Never ever ever.

When you have serious acne, you do your best to come to terms with it, to have some working level of confidence in yourself and your presentation to the rest of the species. But it is there, every time you look in the mirror. Trying to not feel ugly when you have chronic acne is like trying to not get a headache when you're being punched in the face multiple times a day, every day.

If you've never had serious acne, you may think, "What's the big deal? Buy some Proactiv--it worked for Katy Perry, didn't it?" Proactiv. Oh how I hate their advertisements. Yeah, thanks--the last thing people with acne need to see is more airbrushed images of people with perfect skin. Thanks for reminding us of what we'll never look like. 

Personally, I have never used Proactiv, because nothing, nothing topical ever made the tiniest bit of difference for me. So, I can't vouch for its efficacy, only its crappy ads. When I finally convinced my mom that acne was worth going to the doctor for (and that took A LOT of work), I was given Accutane.

I ended up taking Accutane 2 1/2 times. One full course (6-8 months) in 10th grade, one truncated course during my junior year of college, and another full course during my senior year of college. It absolutely worked, and seemed miraculous to me. At each of those times, I was so extremely grateful to be suddenly launched out of the low caste.

But I did not forget my roots. Don't be fooled by the skin that I got, I'm still I'm still Jenny from the block. (I hope that reference makes sense to someone...) It would be impossible for me to forget, considering the nearly suffocating self-loathing I felt for my physical self. I made some of the worst choices of my life during my teen acne plague, choices that I know now were directly linked to my unshakable belief in my own ugliness.

I was grateful that Accutane worked for me, but guess what? Not everyone with serious acne can take Accutane. Maybe their insurance doesn't cover it (and you need insurance to cover it, because it is a really expensive drug). Maybe they get some of the really serious side effects, like depression/suicidal thoughts. Maybe they want to start a family soon. Maybe they have other illnesses that are incompatible with a powerful drug like Accutane.

I think a lot about what I did endure to become a member of the high caste. I had to have my blood drawn and tested every month to make sure the pills weren't slowly killing me, so I missed school on a regular basis. Having my blood drawn is upsetting to me, and has made me pass out before. I do not like it. I'm pretty sure Accutane affected my night vision, and I'm not sure whether it was permanent or not; it's hard to tell. Once I got married, I was required to use two separate forms of birth control--one hormonal and one barrier--at all times while taking Accutane. That was no picnic. If I had somehow gotten pregnant anyway, the fetus would have such extensive defects that I may have needed to end the pregnancy. Every single pill drilled that that nightmarish possibility into me, because every single pill has a cover with a silhouette of a pregnant woman with a red slash over her.

In some ways, I think the costs of Accutane were radically outweighed by the benefit--acne-free skin. But in other ways, I still feel kind of upset that I went through all of those things just to look a certain way. But I felt desperately impelled to do it. There is just no cultural compassion for acne sufferers the way there is for almost any other state of being or disease. When acne sufferers are not being vigorously excluded by popular culture, then they're being endlessly mocked. There's an assumption that acne sufferers can/ought to be doing something about their acne, that they have the power to change it. Many high caste individuals assume that if people wash their face more or eat better or drink more water that their acne will go away. HA! If only it were that easy. That government acne fact sheet? It really emphasizes that if you have severe acne, you should see a dermatologist and get antibiotics, contraceptives, injections, Accutane, or even surgery. In some ways, I'm lucky that I just went straight to Accutane. I know many friends who have slathered on cream after cream and slogged through pill after pill, enduring many side effects, all in the pursuit of clear skin.

Here is the base line: sometimes people with serious acne can do something about their acne, and sometimes they can't. If my skin were to degenerate into serious acne again right now, there would be virtually nothing I could do about it. I am in the middle of the 10+ year endeavor of childbearing and breastfeeding, and so pills are not an option for me. I already know that topical treatments do nothing for me. I would do everything in my power to care for my skin, and still it would look horrible.

The next time you see someone with serious acne, don't assume that they can change it. Look in their eyes and think--forcibly if you must--that they are beautiful. Maybe over time, the caste system will clear away.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Thank you, memory-foam mattress

If you're like me, you've always been hypnotized by the idea of a Tempur-pedic bed. Those commercials with the stable cup of wine on one side and the woman cavorting on the other side always seemed positively magical.

But if you're like me, you've seen the price tag on a Tempur-pedic and then had to pick up your eyeballs off the floor. 

But thankfully, there is a solution. Here's some history on how Nick and I got the most AWESOME BED EVER. 

When I was at the beginning of my third trimester with Luke, I'd started to have trouble sleeping. I had restless legs and I just could not get comfortable at night. It was maddening, and I was always pretty tired. We visited a friend, and got to sleep on a Tempur-pedic bed for a couple nights. Sleep. ACTUALLY SLEEP. When I woke up each of the mornings without having roused at all during the night, I was incredulous. Where was my pregnancy discomfort? Where were the restless legs and insomnia? They were absorbed right into the beautiful foam of that Tempur-pedic bed. 

Fast forward to the months before law school. Nick and I are the kind of nerdy people who research, oh...just about every decision we ever make. So, we'd been doing research on how to succeed/not die during law school, and I read in one book about how important it is to invest in a good bed. The book argued that during law school, sleep is precious and critical, and so you want to make sure you have a quality mattress so that every minute you're sleeping can be the best sleep possible. When I read that, my mind automatically went to those unforgettably delicious nights of sleep on the Tempur-pedic bed. 

But then it was back to the price tag. There was no way we could shell out for a king-size Tempur-pedic, which starts at around 4 grand. So we started to look around. We looked at all kinds of other memory-foam beds, read dozens and dozens of reviews. Compared prices, compared tiny details like whether people noted a plastic/chemical smell coming from the mattress or whether people felt too hot at night. We compared longevity, as noted by reviewers. Finally we decided to gamble on Sleep Innovations.

And let me tell you--we hit the sleep jackpot. 

We got the 10-inch king size mattress for just $419 off Amazon. It shipped for free with Prime. It came in a big fun box, all vacuum-packed. We opened it and it puffed up and up, until it was our own little piece of sleep heaven. We got some memory-foam contoured pillows from Ikea to go with it. We didn't have to buy a devilishly squeaky, baby-awakening box spring, since memory-foam mattresses stand on their own. Paired with a nice, low platform bed frame (from sustainable wood, found surprisingly at Walmart), we had a pretty sweet set-up going. 

Our sleep is amazingly good. I have never been so well-rested in my life as I've been in the past year and a half--and I have an eight-month-old baby! We never wake up with random aches or pains. During my second pregnancy, I never had trouble getting comfortable and I didn't have to use 6,000 pillows to support my huge belly. The memory foam just contoured perfectly around it. The feel of the bed and pillows is different than a traditional bed--you can't really throw yourself onto the bed, and the pillows aren't really cuddly. But they are designed to support your neck/spine in the most comfortable way, and they definitely succeed at it. You lay on the bed and pillow and you just gradually feel your body sink in, supremely relaxed and supported. It feels so awesome.

The bed is also a dream for co-sleeping. There's plenty of room for everybody.  Renée isn't sleeping on an incline, always sliding towards my body. We're both levelly supported, right next to each other.  When Nick gets into bed or when I want to readjust, it doesn't jostle the baby, and there is no squeaking or creaking. With the platform set-up, the bed is low to the ground, which is comforting in the event of an extremely unlikely but possible baby roll-off. If Renée nurses to sleep in bed during the day, I can easily slide out of bed without disturbing her at all. When she was under six months, I just stayed in sight. Now that I know her better, I usually put our super sensitive baby monitor right next to her and check her every couple minutes. 

We are pretty busy people, and we highly value our sleep. We are obsessed with our bed. When we go to hotels, and certainly when we stay at other people's houses, we just pine and pine for our bed. We hate being away from it even for a couple nights. In fact, we love it so much that for we're about to purchase it again. We frequently visit Nick's family (in the next month, we'll be staying there 3 weekends out of 4 for various events), and we'll be staying with them for 12 weeks during the summer. That is way too long to be away from our Sleep Innovations beauty. It's about time for our guest room to come to the foam side.