Monday, April 29, 2013

Respect and Big Life Decisions

Recently a friend linked to an article by the lovely Jen Kirkman called Stop Telling Me I'll "Change My Mind" About Wanting Kids. It is great, and articulates many of my own thoughts and views on the subject.

As someone who has no interest in procreating but is still relatively young, I still get told I will change my mind when I talk about not wanting kids. I can't even count the ways that this is rude, demeaning, and condescending. OK, I'll try.

First of all, it's none of your business why someone wants kids or doesn't, if they will change their mind, or what they would do in the case of an accidental pregnancy. If someone mentions in conversation that they don't plan to reproduce, that's not an invitation to start grilling them about reasons. It's a big decision, and an extremely personal one. Plus, your questions could be extremely painful if this person is infertile.

Telling someone they will change their mind is absolutely horrible. You are basically saying that you don't respect the decisions they have made about their own life based on something like their age, their marital status, or their living situation. Even if it's not what you would do, even if it's not the socially accepted life plan, you have to realize that individuals know their desires and their needs better than anyone else.

Plus, think about it this way: would you tell a young pregnant person that she is going to change her mind? What if the baby comes and they regret becoming a parent? I hope that doesn't happen much, because I'd hate for a child to grow up feeling unwanted. Yes, I care about children having good lives even though I don't want my own. But really, the average age for first pregnancy in the U.S. is 25. I'm four years past that. I would think if a 25-year-old can have her decision to bear children respected, a 29-year-old should be able to expect the same of her decision not to.

And if, by some strange twist of fate, I or anyone else does change their mind, so what? It would mean I arrived at a new decision through thought and careful consideration. And in turn, that would mean I would be prepared for the ramifications of said decision and sure of what I want. It's unlikely to happen, but I fail to see how someone has taken the massive task of parenting under careful consideration before choosing to do it is a bad thing.

The bottom line is, people get to make their own choices about their lives. Assuming they aren't hurting anyone, everyone else needs to respect what others do. Telling someone they will change their mind is not respect. It's condescension, and it's a pretty immature and rude thing to do.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Friday Fashion: What To Put Around Your Neck When It's No Longer Scarf Weather

Necklaces! I know I love them, but when it's cold out we have to be careful what we wear alongside scarves. Well, in theory, scarf time is over. So here are a few options to try out.

(Full disclosure, the first three are being sold on Etsy by a friend of mine, but I have one of her necklaces and constantly get compliments on it.)

Bead Pendant, Hello Azalea, $24

Miniature Silver Wire Elephant, Hello Azalea, $16
Gold and Silver Chevron Bunting Necklace, Hello Azalea, $20

Alarm Clock Necklace (also available in gold), Forever 21, $1.80

Painted Cutout Bib Necklace, Forever 21, $7.80

Collar Necklace, Bubble Jewellery, $8.99

Swallows Bib Necklace, Firegarden, $5.99

Black Filigree Bib, Instead of Zzs, $16

Fabric Flower Necklace in Mustard Yellow, Chicken Scratch'd, $12

Disclaimer type thing: Because many of these are from Etsy, I do not guarantee the availability of the items or reliability of the shops; this is merely a collection of necklaces I saw and liked.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Welcome to the Thunderdome: Apartment Hunting in NYC

I'm moving! Finally!

For those who don't know, I have been staying with my parents for a very long time. Save for a month living with a roommate in Queens who I subsequently had to escape from (I will probably post about that some time), I've been stuck in their apartment for the past five years.

But on Saturday I paid the deposit and picked up the keys to a place in Prospect Heights. I'll be with two roommates (and two cats), from whom I've gotten a really good vibe even though I don't know them. The bedroom is fairly spacious (by New York standards) and the shared space is pretty clean. Plus, there's a decent-sized patio.

How did I find such a gem? Luck, mostly. Apartment hunting in NYC is a blood sport, and you have to have equal parts patience, perseverance, and good fortune. After scam email replies to Craigslist inquiries, brokers who never called me back, and panic attacks about sky-high rent, serendipity came in the form of a listserv message.

The ad for a room came across a local feminist email list I am on. The neighborhood was where I want to be; the rent was reasonable; I knew we'd have ideological similarities; they have pets. So on a whim I replied.

I took my parents to check the place out, and we all got a good vibe from the space, the neighborhood, and the people. I had to wait to make sure friends of the third roommate didn't want it, and then I got a text saying the room was mine if I was still interested.

Now I'm packing. Technically, my lease starts May 1, though I have an exam that day. I'll probably move in gradually over a few days or weekends, and let's hope this one doesn't turn ugly. (I genuinely don't think it will. I had gut feelings about the other place that I ignored, and I did not have them here.)

Monday, April 22, 2013

Big Boobs and Double Standards

To introduce my thought, I'm going to show an image from Busty Girl Comics.

This pretty perfectly illustrates what I would like to say here about the double standards that come out based on body type. While I could probably write volumes about the issues faces by people who happen to be fat, right now I would specifically like to talk about breast size.

As someone who has a very large chest, I can say with certainty that we face a unique set of challenges. There are practical matters, like how bras with a cup size larger than DD are extremely hard to find, and those that exist are expensive and usually unattractive. Or how clothing can often fit everywhere else but strain at the chest. Or how we have back pain, difficulty with overhead roller coaster restraints, and awkward placement of over-the-shoulder bag straps.

For the most part, those are all things that are annoying but tolerable. What I cannot abide is the double standards issued by other people based solely on build.

So let's take a look at the image above. The two women in it are wearing the exact same shirt, but the one who is significantly bustier is being told she should dress more "appropriately" so she more closely resembles the smaller-chested woman. It seems safe to assume the cartoon is depicting coworkers and a manager. This is likely a setting where excessive skin is not allowed, which is the prerogative of whoever makes the dress code. Neither woman is showing much skin, as the top is relatively modest. The only difference is the size of the one woman's breasts, for which she is being admonished. She is essentially being told that her body is inappropriate and dirty.

The woman is being chastised for something she cannot control. I know, someone will probably try to point out that she could have a breast reduction, but why should she? She really should not have to go through the cost and pain of a major surgery like that unless she really wants to. And while everyone's experience in their body will be different, I can personally say that I would have to be in a lot of physical agony to consider that option.

The message of that response is that women should drastically and dangerously alter themselves to fit into an ideal of "appropriate." Personally, I don't find this suggestion to be appropriate. A pair of breasts under a shirt are not inherently inappropriate; they are just two mounds of fat and tissue that develop naturally in case you want to some day use them to feed offspring. Their sexuality is culturally assigned, which means it can be culturally removed.

The size of someone's chest doesn't indicate how sexual they are (and of course, sexuality does not indicate how smart or capable someone is), nor does fat indicate health or habit. Bodies are just bodies. We live in them and dress them and care for them the best that we can. What needs to drastically alter is the current paradigm of perception and judgment toward bodies.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Tragedy, Politics, and Knee-Jerk Reactions

It's really difficult to say something meaningful and sensitive after tragedies, like the Boston Marathon attacks on Monday or the fertilizer plant explosion in Texas last night. Everything I am thinking -- that this much human suffering breaks my heart, that I wish as much comfort as possible to the victims and their families, that I hope the culprits are swiftly caught -- has been said over and over, to that point that it feels like empty words.

But there is one thing I need to add, and that is that I cannot stand to see tragic events politicized or used as an excuse to discriminate or say terrible things about groups of people.

Whenever something earns the label "terrorism," as the events in Boston already have, far too many people jump to the same conclusions: Muslims, Saudis, Arabs, whatever word you want to use to mean "brown people whose god goes by a different name than mine." Obviously, this isn't OK. It's racism. It's Islamophobia, which is closely tied to racism since the image of the "extremist Muslim" is generally a darker-skinned person.

Can I reiterate the "not OK" part? Again? Because I feel like it can't be said enough. The New York Post is guilty of it, not once, but twice. The night this happened, they ran their incorrect story about a "Saudi national" being taken into custody, and then this morning's cover story is about two teenagers -- yes, one of them appears to be non-white -- who have been accused of the crime based on some photos of them in the crowd.

I get that people want to see the culprits caught. I even get that detectives make mistakes. However, I cannot get behind the witch hunt that has pit people against Muslims, or anyone that is guilty of being brown in public.

Besides, it seems worthwhile to point out that Timothy McVeigh was white. And you know what? If the bomber turns out to be a homegrown white terrorist like him, people won't classify my entire race as dangerous. Yet after 9/11 they are willing to be suspicious of anyone that kind of looks like they could be from the Middle East.

In addition, last night after the explosion in Texas, there was a comment on a news story (pro tip: don't read the comments on news stories) saying that liberals probably wouldn't care about it because it was in Texas.

Why must we make such crass knee-jerk statements? Let's set aside how wrong that is, how I could easily point out the irony in that some conservatives will write off New York City as a left-wing cesspool of heathen gayness unless it's politically advantageous to exploit 9/11, and the fact that there are liberal people living in Texas. Why must human tragedy be made political? Can't we just be sad, mourn, offer support, and spread the word without making partisan attacks?

Personally, I would prefer to avoid finger-pointing and racism, and to focus on what's important, which is finding out what kinds of aid can be sent from other areas to both Texas and Boston, and then helping as much as I can. I live in a city that was attacked by man 12 years ago (note: I didn't live here then) and by nature six months ago. I've seen how it's possible for people to work together to help each other. So let's do that.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Friday Fashion: Sandal Weather, And No I Don't Mean Old Navy Flip-Flops

It's almost summer! Almost. Who knows what the weather will do from here on out. But we're getting there. So here are a few nice-looking sandals I've picked out. Something a little more chic than your basic rubber flip-flop (those do have their place, of course). And as an added bonus: no leather!

Report Brinkley in Cognac, Zappos, $69

Sbicca Legend in Red, Zappos, $74.99

Rocket Dog Stelena in Rainbow Multi, Zappos, $49.95
Xhilaration Caidence Sandal in Black, Target, $24.99

Sun Luks Printed Canvas Gladiator in Chocolate, Target, $14.99
 Mossimo Peace Heeled Thong in Black, Target, $19.99

Monday, April 8, 2013

Say My Name Say My Name: Asking For Help Without Being Rude

As someone who has worked several retail and customer service jobs, I've seen a whole range of politeness. Some people are absolutely delightful, appreciative, and sweet. Others are, well, less so.

One of the things that can really set the tone for how an experience between a customer and an employee will go is the approach. How you ask a worker for assistance is extremely important, and will shape how helpful and polite they are to you (to a point, sometimes people are just in a bad mood or are coming off of helping someone else who was horrible).

The way you get their attention is vital, as are tone of voice and use of questions instead of declarations. If you shout from across the store, the employee is not going to be happy about it. If you don't actually get their attention and just start loudly asking questions, they may not even realize you are talking to them, and when they do, you'll have to start over. If you demand things instead of asking nicely, they will be less inclined to be helpful.

Approach the employee. Yes, this means walking over to them, not shouting from twenty feet away. Say "excuse me." If they are already helping someone else, say something like "when you're done, can you help me X?" If they are free, just ask them politely for whatever you need. Use a calm tone of voice. Say "please" and "thank you." If they can't find something, or they can't do something because of store policy, don't yell at them. Chances are, they did not implement the policy but they have to enforce it whether they like it or not if they want to keep their job (I wrote about this recently). Act like you are grateful for their help, not like you are doing them a favor by allowing them to run around doing things for you. If they tell you there is nothing left of an item/size/color, believe them. Chances are, they've recently been in the stock room looking for that and they aren't trying to pull a fast one or get out of working. Thank them for their help. Basically, just exercise common courtesy and don't treat them like they are beneath you because of where they work. 

Some places track the success of their employees. If the cashier asks who was helping you, that's what they are doing. In places like this, get the person's name. If you aren't sure whether or not the place will do this, just make a mental note of what they look like and what they are wearing, so you can describe them to the cashier just in case. If they did an especially impressive job, tell someone, preferably a manager.

Remember: working customer service is a demanding and frustrating job where employees often get condescended to and pushed around. You can be the difference between someone going home happy or crying to their roommate/friends/partner about how much they hate life and want to quit their job.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Friday Fashion: Pencil Skirts

Pencil skirts are an excellent wardrobe staple. They're professional, and can be dressed up for the office with a jacket and blouse, but they can also be downright sexy. I've collected a couple of examples that aren't too expensive.

Double Buckle Skirt, Avenue, $29.99

Merona Plus Size Women's Pencil Skirt, Target, $24.99

Women's Plus Jersey Pencil Skirts, Old Navy, $29.94

Women's Plus Perfect Khaki Skirt, Old Navy, $18
(This one is on clearance, so limited sizes are available.)

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Courteous Eating: When Your Friend Has Special Dietary Needs

Disclaimer: I'm writing this from the perspective of someone who does not have allergies but has been a vegetarian for many years, and who currently eats vegan as much as possible.

It can be pretty tough to figure out where a large group is going to eat together. This gets harder when one or more people in the group have some kind of dietary need, like allergies or Celiac disease, or are veg*n (that's a combination word that lumps together vegan and vegetarian). And when you have a craving for a place that doesn't meet those needs, it can be frustrating.

But you have to adapt. As a general rule, people who will eat anything can have a meal that eliminates something. It won't hurt you to not eat nuts because someone is allergic, or to have a single gluten-free and/or veg*n meal. Really. I promise. But when the table is flipped it can cause serious problems. People with allergies, including gluten, can have severe health implications. Even people who are veg*n, even though it is technically a choice, can get sick from eating meat or dairy if their body is no longer used to processing it. It's just rude to deny someone health and comfort because you have a craving.

Trust me, being on the other side is awkward. I have felt very guilty in the past because I made my friends go to a couple of places before we found something I could eat. I don't want to make people I care about suffer, or be inconvenienced, but at the same time I am not going to compromise myself or sit there hungry. One would think that a compassionate person would never make their friend starve to satisfy their own desires, but you'd be surprised how many times I've had people argue about where we're going when I've said I can't eat somewhere.

We already do our best to be accommodating. As much as stupid jokes might fly around about veg*ns being smug and annoying, most of us just want to have dinner without conflict. So if someone says they have a need, even if you don't interpret it as such, honor it. Check ahead if a restaurant has veg or gluten free options, or if they can make things without allergens. And no, I don't just mean a side salad or "you can probably pick the chicken off." I mean food. I mean an entree. One that is made without meat/gluten/nuts/etc. It's just the nice thing to do, and trust me that your companion will appreciate it.

You can go out for a nut-encrusted steak with a side of gluteny bread tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Importance of Friendships, In Whatever Medium You See Fit

I have about 150 really close friends, and I've only met about a dozen of them.

No, really. Out of respect for privacy I won't say too much about most of them, but I'm in a particular Facebook group full of really amazing people that I consider better friends than many people I currently know in real life (sorry).

The group has been around for about two years, and in that time I've gotten to know these (mostly) women really, really well. I know, I know. A lot of people think you can never achieve the full bond of friendship through a computer. They could be anyone, posing as 20- or 30- somethings to infiltrate this band of buddies and then pounce when we let our guard down. They could be another incarnation of the Craigslist killer. They could be 14-year-old boys. They could be they could be they could be.

They aren't. I trust them all implicitly. Many of us have met in real life. Who has met whom depends on geography, but between living in a place lots of people visit and doing a little traveling myself, I've met many of my friends; even shared a hotel room with a couple of them. I have not been murdered, and no one is 14.

But that's beside the point. What matters is that I have a large group of people I feel close to, who are at the same time encouraging, supportive, hilarious, passionate, smart, and kind. They will call me out when I mess up, but support me in efforts to fix my mistakes.

I wish everyone could have access to friends like that, whether online or in real life. Having a support network is vital to success. And yes, you can get extremely close to people using a computer. Before I had met anyone in person, I still felt like this was a tight group. I don't feel any more distant from the people I have yet to see face-to-face. Everyone is important.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Remembering and Forgetting Online

For one of my classes I'm reading a book by Viktor Mayer-Schonberger called Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age. It covers many different aspects of forgetting and remembering, and how a switch to digital media has altered the way humans do that, but one thing that struck me is the age-old (or digital-age-old) debate about how social networking can affect our professional lives.

Early in the book we are introduced to a woman who was denied a teaching license because she had a picture of herself on her MySpace page wearing a pirate hat and holding a drink. There are plenty of people out there who would say, well, then she shouldn't be posting pictures like that online. Anyone can see them and you deserve what you get and so on. It's the same argument that comes about when you hear of someone being fired for complaining about their job on their own Facebook page.

I hate that argument. A lot. See, if this woman was in the process of obtaining a teaching license, she had to at least be old enough to be through college. Unless she's a Dougie Howser-style genius, she's probably in her mid-twenties. Certainly of legal drinking age. Now, a review of the book mentions that there may have been other factors in her denial for a license than just the photo, however, it shouldn't have been a factor at all. Personal activity, unless illegal or wildly unethical (no, drinking does not count as unethical, nor does profanity or consensual adult sex), ought not to be held against people who are otherwise qualified.

Many of our interactions happen online. I'll be posting tomorrow about internet-based friendships. So, naturally, that's where our conversations about work or our photos from parties will end up. Before, yes, they may have stayed confined to a phone conversation or personal scrapbook, but people were still behaving the same way. Just because these things are easier to find doesn't mean it's alright to use them against people.

The job market is awful right now. It's really bad. I don't have to tell anyone that. Employers are at such an advantage that they can put applicants through intense, rigorous, borderline ridiculous screening processes for pretty low-level positions. As it already is, we have to be nearly perfect to even get our resumes considered for anything other than the circular file. Companies should not be adding to this by scrutinizing what we post as normal daily activities. It places an unprecedented and undue burden of perfection on people. But people aren't perfect. We never have been. We aren't doing anything different than we did in the analog age; we just have a new way of documenting it. Holding things against us that would easily have been ignorable before just creates a standard no one can live up to.

Let people have their privacy. Just because a profile is there doesn't mean it needs to be seen by everyone. We have a right to a personal, non-professional life. Assuming legality and ethics, the two need not inhibit each other.