A few of my favorite things – Makeup and Skincare

So since the holidays are approaching, I’ve decided to a Favorite Things List – just like Oprah, except not nearly as many people care, and I can’t give away things for free. But I get really excited when I find products that I love, or things that make great gifts. So I figured I’d share some. This is specifically for makeup and skincare. I’ll post other categories as well in upcoming posts.

Supergoop! Zincscreen SPF 40

I love this sunscreen. My favorite things about this sunscreen are the SPF protection, the formula, and the finish. It’s all-mineral, so it’s great for sensitive skin and there’s less need to reapply every two hours to get the full sun protection. It’s fragrance-free and cruelty-free. And, it leaves a really nice, dewy, glowy finish. I was wearing this sunscreen while FaceTiming with my mom, and she asked me if I had just returned from getting a facial. This gives your skin a nice glow without looking greasy, and the tint helps subtly even out your skin.

Cerave PM Moisturizer

I’m obsessed with Cerave. You can have an entire skincare routine using just their products (and I actually do have that). This moisturizer in particular is HG status–it keeps my skin moisturized and hydrated throughout the day (and night), it’s fragrance-free, it contains ingredients that help restore and maintain the skin barrier, and it’s lightweight. I’ve used this moisturizer for almost seven years now. It’s been there for me through breakups and job changes. Guys come and go, but Cerave is forever.

Cerave Moisturizing Cream

See? I LOVE Cerave. I discovered this moisturizing cream because I had just gotten off a flight, my hands were really dry, and the lotions I had just weren’t doing it. Normally when my skin starts to dry up and peel, I turn to oils, like marula oil. I didn’t have marula oil on me, so I went to Target and picked up a tube of this moisturizing cream. Holy crap, it was a game-changer. I use it all the time now, and it keeps my skin moisturized and supple and happy. The only thing I don’t love is that it’s packaged in a jar, but hey. If you’re really against jar packaging, the travel-sized version of this comes in a tube that lasts pretty long.

Drunk Elephant Marula Oil

I’m generally more selective about expensive products when it comes to my skincare. But, this product is one of the few exceptions. I had never used any kind of facial oil prior to purchasing this marula oil, but since then, I’ve become a convert. Oils, and marula oil in particular, is incredibly versatile. I use this on my face, usually in the winter when my skin tends to get drier. I mix a drop or two in with my Cerave PM moisturizer, apply it to my skin, and it keeps my skin from drying out. I also use this on my hands whenever they tend to get dry. I use this on my cuticles. I even use this on my hair. I recently started color-treating my hair after going my entire life without dyeing it. I notice that my hair starts to get a bit drier than it did prior to my highlight job, especially towards the ends. So, I’ll take a couple drops of this oil, rub it between my palms, and then just apply it to my hair, from about the second half, down to the ends of my hair. This keeps my hair moisturized and keeps the ends from looking fried. So, considering the multiple ways this can be used, and how well it works (it’s better than other oils from other brands!), this is well worth the price.

Cover FX Custom Enhancer Drops

This stuff is like liquid metal. This was the first highlighter I loved, and this product is what really sold me on highlighter. It was the gateway product into my obsession with that blinding highlight. But, with this, you can do a subtle highlight if that’s more your speed, and build it up if you want that blinding effect. Plus, you can mix it in with your foundation if you want an all-over glow. This stuff is super easy to blend, a tiny, tiny bit goes a long way, and it lasts all. freaking. day. Another more high-end product in my arsenal, but so worth it.

Supergoop! Shimmershade SPF 30

When Supergoop! first introduced this product, I wasn’t all that excited about it. I don’t wear a ton of makeup on a daily basis, and for the longest time, my go-to eyeshadow was Urban Decay (the Naked palette). I thought, I don’t need another eyeshadow. But when I tried this out in-store, I was hooked. What really sold me on this eyeshadow was its versatility. Yes, it’s a great, subtle, everyday shadow that gives just a hint of shimmer, really brightens up your eyes, and gives sun-protection in an often-neglected area. But, this eyeshadow also works so well as a subtle highlighter. I used this a lot as both an eyeshadow and a highlighter in the summer, when I needed as much sun protection as I could get. Plus, this stays on all day. And the packaging is great–it’s so easy to just throw in my purse and keep on-hand for touch-ups.

Cerave Skin Renewing Retinol Serum

I used retinol before when a dermatologist prescribed it to me for acne. But then I stopped after my skin calmed down. However, since I’m approaching my 30s, I started incorporating a retinol serum again in the winter for preventative anti-aging. It’s part of my nighttime skincare routine. I love this particular retinol serum because it contains encapsulated retinol, which is much better tolerated by most skin types, including sensitive skin. Your skin is less likely to peel or experience irritation or redness as it adjusts to the retinol. So far, I really love this and I notice a difference in my skin. If you’re going to incorporate a retinol serum into your skincare routine, this is the way to go.

Benefit Gimme Brow Gel

When I first started looking for products for my brows, this was the first one I used. At the time, I didn’t really apply very much so the definition in my brows was really subtle. I switched to a brow pencil (below) and I preferred using that. However, Sephora sent me a sample of the Gimme Brow, so I started using it again, and applied it a lot more liberally than I had before. The difference was definitely noticeable. It’s still not quite as defined as when you use a brow pencil–and you have a lot more control over the shape of your brow with a pencil–but for every day, and for more of a no-makeup look, this is a great product that gives a subtle definition to your brows and enhances them without looking too precise.

Anastasia Brow Wiz

This is one of the staples in my makeup kit. I used to avoid brow pencils, but once I started using this, I saw how versatile pencils are. You can go for a really defined, sharp, Instagram-makeup brow look, or a more natural look if you use a lighter hand and just fill in sparse areas. Your brows can still look natural, even with a pencil. The trick is to get one in a shade that’s 2-3 shades lighter than your hair color. This brow pencil looks natural and stays on all day–and it’s super easy to work with. Whenever these go on sale, I stock up and buy like, four of them.

Anastasia Contour Stick

I recently hopped on the contour bandwagon, and this stick is a really good product if you’re new to contouring (or if you’re lazy like me and prefer using fingers over brushes). I literally apply these by just drawing the contour line on my face, then blending it out with my fingers. The result? A natural-looking, yet defined, contour (hello, cheekbones!), that looks like you actually spent time blending it with different tools and brushes and products.

Laneige Lip Sleeping Mask

This came in one of my Sephora Play boxes, and it was honestly one of my favorite products from that box. I used the Laneige lip balm before, and I liked it–but I did notice that was not quite as emollient as I would have liked. The Lip Sleeping Mask is so much better. It’s thicker, more moisturizing, and stays on longer. I apply this at night before going to bed, and in the morning when I wake up, my lips feel soft and moisturized, and I don’t feel like I need to reapply this. Plus, it gives your lips a nice shine, like a lip gloss, but less sticky.

Drunk Elephant Protini Polypeptide Moisturizer

I tried this moisturizer over the summer and ended up really liking it. It’s sort of like a thicker version of the Cerave PM. However, note that this product is not oil-free and the Cerave PM is oil-free, so depending on your skin type, you can choose which one is best for you. This is another moisturize that would work well in the winter, when your skin might need a bit more of a moisturizing kick. Plus, all DE products are made thoughtfully, with ingredients that are safe for sensitive skin and beneficial to your skin, and without any ingredients that are potentially irritating.

Supergoop! Defense Refresh Setting Mist

This is another great Supergoop! product that multitasks. (As you can probably tell by now, I love multitasking products. Anything that requires less work is a win for me; I’m all about being lazy.) This mist sets your makeup, and helps reinforce your sun protection when you need to apply sunscreen. Plus, it smells amazing–the scent comes from peppermint oil, rather than fragrance. (Any fragrance in skincare is a big no-no!) It’s great for all skin-types including sensitive skin, and the bottle is sleek and great for throwing in your bag on the go.

Pantene Sulfate-Free Rose Water Shampoo + Conditioner

I’ve never really been all that particular about my hair products prior to color-treating my hair, but since I’ve crossed over to the dark side (or should I say, the light side ūüėČ ), I’ve had to be a bit more thoughtful about my hair products. I’ve had to start choosing sulfate-free shampoo, as well as heat protectant, leave-in conditioner, oils, etc. This shampoo is sulfate-free, so it’s gentle on color-treated hair. And, it smells AMAZING. It leaves my hair feeling soft and smooth, and smelling like rosewater.

Fenty Beauty Gloss Bomb

I don’t normally like lip glosses, but this is one of the few lip glosses that I love and is definitely worth the hype. It’s surprisingly emollient when you first apply it–it feels almost like a lip balm. The colors are all universally flattering, and the shine lasts for hours. And, the packaging is gorgeous, and the glosses have a nice, sweet scent that isn’t too overpowering.

Givenchy Rouge Interdit Black Magic Lipstick

Black is my favorite color, and when I saw this lipstick, I knew I had to have it. I am pleasantly surprised with the product. The lipstick itself is really emollient, and it reacts with the natural pH of your lips to create a custom, flattering berry shade. I love using this when I want to add a nice hint of color that looks natural. You can apply just a couple swipes for a bit more color than your natural lip color, or you can build it up to a much richer, berry shade. It’s such a cool product and it’s become one of my staples in my makeup bag.

Sephora Collection Cream Lip Shade

I am actually a huge fan of Sephora Collection. Sephora’s in-house brand makes really good products at reasonable prices. Most of their makeup products, including foundation, BB cream, etc, are fragrance-free, generally non-irritating, and have a really inclusive shade range. This lipstick was probably the best 14 bucks I ever spent. I have this lipstick in several shades, including the signature red shade, and they are all so great. The color is vibrant and lasts almost all day, and is easy to remove at the end of the day.

Stila Liquid Eyeliner

Sometime this past year, I made the switch from pencil eyeliner to liquid. I used to use liquid and gel liners, and I remember how much staying power they had. I had some good luck with a lot of pencil liners, but since I started using more liquid foundations and less powder foundations, I’ve found that eyeliner and mascara still tends to smudge a bit. So I made the jump back to liquid, and this liner is my absolute favorite. It’s almost like using a pen–it has a felt tip so the application is really easy to control. Once you get used to creating that winged-eyeliner flick, application can take a little as a couple minutes. And, the best part? This stuff lasts all. damn. day. Eyeliner smudges are a thing of the past.

4 months later….

So I remember in this post, I gave a little update on my singing journey. I started taking voice lessons a few years ago, so I compared an old video with no training, to one I had done after a couple years of training. Since then, I’ve expanded my training, taken training with different instructors, and started studying other aspects of the voice, like resonance and breath control. So, here’s a before and after, about four months apart. The first one is when I had just started to learn more about resonance and breath control, and the second one is after a few months of really working on it, and that song, specifically.

Some differences between the before and after – the after, I feel like, has a stronger resonance and warmer tone. Also note that in the before video, I’m mic’ed, while in the after, I’m not. (TBH, I kind of hate mics….it throws me off ’cause I hear myself differently. I much prefer being un-mic’ed – which I guess also explains why I much prefer more intimate shows rather than big performances.) I changed up the melody a little bit as well, between the time of the before and the after recordings, so the after has some more variations and runs and that I had been working.

The after video is definitely not perfect, and I’m still working at improving, but I’m happy with my progress so far. It hasn’t been without its frustrations (especially considering it’s ME, and I’m a type-A perfectionist and also a bit impatient). But, I’ve been trying more and more to take the pressure off of myself to be perfect, right away, and instead focus on carving out time to practice, even if just a little bit, and focus on specific things–like my breath control, or my resonance, or my tone. I’ll put together some general things I’ve learned, as well as practice tips that I’ve learned, as I’ve spent more time taking singing lessons, ’cause I think that’d be a fun post. Honestly, singing lessons are super fun, and even if you’ve never sung a note in your life but still would like to learn to sing, I HIGHLY recommend it. A good singing teacher will create a really supportive space for you to feel encouraged and excited about learning to sing. But anyway, that’s another post. Here’s the before and after! (Note: The after is just a clip of the song, so to compare the same parts, jump to 1:52-3:10 in the before video.)

Before

After

The whole truth, and nothing but the truth

A few people know this, but for the past few years up until January 12, 2018, I was in a really awful place. I was in a relationship that was destructive and toxic and emotionally draining, with a person who was verbally and emotionally abusive, who chipped away at my self-worth until there was very little of it left, until I was so used to feeling on edge and anxious and depressed all at once that I didn’t remember any other way to feel and I didn’t think there were any other ways to feel. That feeling‚ÄĒthat I just had to live with those feelings of anxiety and depression‚ÄĒthat was my normal. That was my everyday. I became used to feeling on edge; I became used to feeling like it was just any other day having to tiptoe around my ex-boyfriend’s feelings. That became habit. It became so ingrained my daily life‚ÄĒit was like brushing my teeth. It was just something I did every day.¬†It didn’t feel good, but it was something that I just had to do. Because the alternative was much, much worse.

What I think people don’t necessarily realize about emotionally abusive relationships is how complicated they are‚ÄĒand that’s why they’re so difficult to leave. There were a lot times I felt like I was going mad. Like I was doing everything I could but somehow it wasn’t enough, and why couldn’t I just have what my other friends in relationships had, and why couldn’t I handle it when my boyfriend got angry with me, and why was I so needy and why couldn’t I care less and what was wrong with me and why was I so damn emotional? I felt exhausted all the time. I felt confused a lot of the time. I felt sad, and worthless, and alone, and hopeless, a lot of the time. But then, there were also times‚ÄĒlots of times‚ÄĒwhen things were great. Really, really great. When my ex-boyfriend was thoughtful, and kind, and affectionate, and, well, a normal boyfriend. And we laughed together and went on fun dates and had great conversations. But then, inevitably, something would set him off‚ÄĒsomething I said or did, and maybe it was just wired in his personality‚ÄĒand then he would get angry. And it would be my fault. And we would fight because how can something so small or something so random feel like it’s tearing our whole relationship apart, and why did I have to fuck up in the first place but it didn’t feel like I actually did anything wrong but you know what, maybe I did, and now that he’s explaining his side and how it made him feel, I see that I really did screw up, so if I just fix that thing then everything will go back to the way it was and we’ll be even stronger because we worked through it, and I just have to work on those things.

He made me responsible for things that I did not need to be responsible for.

It was not my job to tiptoe around his emotions because he could not control them himself and express them in a healthy way himself. It was not my job to curb and adjust every aspect of my life‚ÄĒfrom who I hung out with and when I hung out with them‚ÄĒbecause it threatened his feeling of control over me and caused him to take his anger out on me. It was not my job to be his verbal punching bag, and “just take it” until he cooled off and came back to apologize.

But at the time, I didn’t think of it that way. I thought of this person within the parameters of a normal relationship with a person who was not abusive, who was not manipulative, who was not toxic. In a healthy relationship, with an emotionally mature and healthy partner, when you have arguments, you do work through them, and you do come out stronger. You learn, and you compromise. Emotionally abusive relationships are a perversion of this concept. Because you do argue, but those conflicts only get resolved when you submit to the abusive partner and you concede in the exact way your partner wants you to concede. And that way usually involves you taking all the blame, and your partner being absolved of any responsibility. (Or, your partner taking the blame for something so minute that it hardly requires much compromise on his part.) And then, going forward, as you “work through it together,” it’s really just you working to not upset your partner and you working on a bunch of stuff because you’re made to believe that you are terribly, terribly flawed. The onus falls on you to make the relationship work, and your partner has no responsibility and nothing to compromise on, while you have to compromise so much on almost everything.

And, you willingly take up that mantle. Because you love your partner. You want him to be happy, and you want to be the one to make him happy. So you take on the difficulties of being with him, being in a relationship where the deck is stacked against you before you even start to play, being with a person who will always find fault and flaw and always find a way to remind you that you are not worthy of his love but you can be if you just do X, Y, and Z. And at first you think you can do it; you’re a strong woman and you can get through this and come out on the other side victorious and you can earn his love and once you do, it will be perfect. But then, it starts to eat away at you. Your self-esteem starts to wither and slowly die. You become tired of carrying that burden, that big load of responsibilities, of tiptoeing around his feelings and making sure everything is absolutely perfect because if it’s not, he could be anything from mildly annoyed to incredibly, royally pissed off. But if things are perfect, he could be anything from indifferent to incredibly happy and grateful and thoughtful and kind. On braver days, you gamble with those odds, and at first, you have more braver days. But then the braver days start to come fewer and farther in between. And most of your days are just sad and empty and lonely, though you’d never let it show. You feel like an outsider while you see your friends living their lives. And when you see your friends in relationships (healthy ones), you wonder what’s wrong with you. You wonder what’s wrong with¬†you. Not what’s wrong with your partner, or why he treats you like that. You don’t question why he treats you like that‚ÄĒmost of the time, at least. You question why you can’t handle why he treats you like that. Because you’ve convinced yourself that you are in the wrong. And when he explains to you why you are in the wrong and why he is not wrong and why he does more than you think he does, it makes sense. The explanation may not always be accurate, but he twists his words and your words to form an alternate truth and you convince yourself that it is the truth. And even if you don’t totally buy it, you swallow it anyway because you love him and you want him to be happy and you want to be the one to make him happy. And if that means sacrificing your happiness and your sanity and your energy, then so be it. Because that’s what it means to love someone so earnestly and selflessly, to love someone who simply keeps taking and taking and who likely doesn’t know what love really is.

But that isn’t to say that he doesn’t love you. He does‚ÄĒinsofar as he knows how to. In his own, twisted way, he does love you. It’s not a healthy love, by any means, and it isn’t actual love‚ÄĒbecause actual love is selfless and understanding and kind and patient and forgiving‚ÄĒbut it is a kind of affection that he is capable of. And this is where it gets so confusing and complicated. Because there are good times, and there are bad times, and every time things go bad you wonder if you have anything left in you to keep going, to keep pushing through until the good times become more frequent and the bad times are far and few. Because you know that there is something there, something that might be a little like love, if not love or something close to it. And you so want love, and you so want that love to come from this person. And it is so frustrating and confusing and maddening to wholly, unconditionally love a person who is responsible both for making you happiest, but also breaking your heart and shattering your self-worth to its core. Love always wins‚ÄĒand usually, your love for this person overcomes everything else. And that’s why it’s so hard to leave.

What makes emotionally abusive relationships so insidious is that you hardly know the damage is happening, but it is. It’s a silent attacker. All those signs that things might be wrong‚ÄĒin the beginning, it’s so easy to look past them and conflate them with less harmful signs. You simply accept what’s happening and do the best you can, but as you continue contorting yourself to fit your partner’s every minute demand, you slowly start to lose yourself. And even worse, the cause of all that destruction is someone you love and can’t let go of. Simply recognizing that the relationship is emotionally abusive is difficult, and once you do recognize it, it takes even more time and effort to be able to readily admit that to yourself, and to others, and then on top of that, even more time and effort to muster up the courage to leave and not look back. And then, once you do leave, the real work begins‚ÄĒthe real work of picking yourself up and putting yourself back together.

Finding the courage to leave is the hardest part, in my opinion. It’s the part that rocks you the most; it’s the part that feels most uncertain and most scary and most alone. It’s the absolute darkest before the dawn. I can’t speak for other people who were in emotionally abusive relationships, but for me, it took a series of events that were so awful and so obviously wrong for me to finally tell myself that enough was enough and even if it hurt, staying would hurt too, and staying would hurt more, and staying¬†had¬†been hurting more, but I had just been denying it.

I can’t say how things would be now if I had done things differently, but during that time, I reached out to a few people I trusted to talk this whole thing over and work through my emotions and figure out how to get through this. And they really were there for me, and supported me, all in different ways. And I am forever grateful to those people for being there for me during a time where I did not think I was worthy of any kind of affection or help or love or support.

Thank you for reaching out to me, and for talking through every single thought I had about my relationship, and for telling me that you would support me no matter what and that my safety was the most important thing and to make sure to put my own safety first.

Thank you for always being there to listen and talk, and for encouraging me to seek help to work through all the pain that this relationship had caused me.

Thank you for staying on the phone with me until 4am the night that it ended, just to talk me through and be there for me and help me process everything and keep me company and remind me that you are there for me. I was panicky and frantic and confused and guilt-ridden and sad and heartbroken and scared all at once. And even though you were miles away in another state, you were there for me and you reassured me that things would be ok and that I had people who cared about me. And you must have been exhausted but you stayed on the phone until I felt safe enough to hang up. And then the next day, when I had all those feelings again and I had to deal with the emotional fallout of the previous night’s events as well as logistical things that day, you stayed on the phone with me and let me talk and you listened and you again reminded me that you were there for me and I had people who cared about me and that things would be ok.

Thank you for being on the phone with me the morning after it ended, to listen and comfort me and reassure me that I did nothing wrong and I made the right decision and that it was ok and that I deserved better.

Thank you for getting coffee with me and talking it through and supporting me and checking in with me to make sure I was doing ok and letting me know that you were there to help if I needed anything. That entire weekend, I felt so strange and scared and numb and despondent all at once, and seeing the messages you sent just to check in with me and remind me that you were there if I needed anything was like an anchor that I held on to just to feel stable and safe and sane while all this was happening.

Thank you for driving to my apartment to keep me company, even though it was late, and you were out doing your own thing downtown, enjoying your Friday night. You told me to hang tight and you’d get there as soon as you could, and a truck even scratched up your car on the way to me and you still came by anyway, and it was 4am by the time you came by and you stayed and kept me company and that meant so much.

Thank you for offering to crash on my couch over night, a few days after it ended, just to keep me company and make sure I was safe, since all this was still pretty fresh. That week, I was such a mess and just not myself, and you helped me feel safe. It was the first night in years that we had met up, and I had just told you about everything that had happened. It meant a lot that you offered to do that and that you wanted to make sure I was safe. And thank you for letting me stay at your place the following night. I never told you this, but that night was the first night I felt safe since the night that it happened. The change of scenery, being away from my place and with someone who cared, was just what I needed. You knew I wasn’t eating well because my stomach was always in knots, and the first thing you did when I came over was ask me if I had eaten and offer me soup. I hadn’t eaten, and I honestly was thinking I’d just not eat because I couldn’t. I had barely eaten that day anyway. But you heated up soup for me, and I had dinner with you and your roommate, and for the first time since the thing happened, I felt like I could relax and not worry and not check the doors and the cabinets and the closets. I felt like I wasn’t on edge for the first time since the night it happened, and it was such a good feeling. So thank you.

Thank you for our phone conversations. Even though you’ve since moved cities‚ÄĒthank you for always being there for me, and for praying for me, and for being one of the best friends I’ve ever had.

Thank you for letting me call you every time I walked to or from my car, just so I wasn’t alone and could feel somewhat safer. And you stayed on the phone with me as I checked the cabinets and closets and all the rooms once I got home, to make sure no one was there, and you stayed on the phone with me until I had made sure everything was clear and I felt safe.

Thank you so much for helping me even though you were thousands of miles away on vacation. I don’t remember why I thought of you when I needed help, but I just did, and I’m so glad I did. That night, I needed someone to talk to and I needed someone I felt like I could trust, so I reached out to you and told you to call my new number which I had given you a few days prior. You called, right away, and I told you what happened. I was trying my best to sound calm and not frantic but I think I sounded like I was freaking out anyway, ’cause I was. I asked you if I screwed up by calling the cops and you answered with a resounding no, and assured me that I did the right thing. You comforted me and said you’d be home in a few days and we’d hang out so I wasn’t alone. And then after we hung up, a few minutes later you messaged me saying you had just spoken to your neighbor who had a spare key, and he’d give me the key so I could stay at your place if I needed to. That night was one of the worst, if not the worst, nights of my life. I was already in a low place, and that night just exacerbated everything I was feeling already. But when you called, and we talked, and you told me that I had a place to stay if I needed…for someone to do something like that when for the longest time I had felt like I was so unworthy of anything good…that just gave me hope and made me feel better, on a night when everything was so scary and surreal and awful. I’ll never forget that. It might not have been a huge deal for you to help me, but for me, it made a world of difference and meant so much.

And to the cop who came when I called 911…I remember telling you that I didn’t want to seem like I was overreacting, and you asked me, when would it not be overreacting?. You knew, more than I did at the time, that these situations can escalate, and it was better to be safe than sorry. You were on my side, and I am so lucky that it was you who came to my door. It’s not always the case that cops take a woman at her word and make sure she is safe. You listened to me, and you believed me, and you looked out for me. And you called me later that night, after you had spoken to him, and you told me that while it may not feel like it at the time, I was a victim, and I did the right thing. You wished me all the best in the future. At the time I was too distraught and upset and afraid to feel anything else, but when I look back on that night, I am so grateful for you because that night, you were my hero.

To these people‚ÄĒthank you. You saved my life. I know it sounds cheesy and dramatic, but you really did. Because if I didn’t have you to talk to and help me work through this, if I didn’t have you to tell me that this kind of treatment from my ex-boyfriend was not normal and not something I deserved and not something anyone deserved, if I didn’t have you to do things to make me feel safe and supported and loved and cared for during that incredibly difficult time, if I didn’t have you to support me and continually support me as I worked through those feelings and realizations and then gathered the courage to leave and start over…I don’t know how things would have gone. I don’t know if I would have had the courage to definitively turn my back on this ugly chapter of my life at the point that I did. I don’t know if things would have gotten worse, or escalated, or led to other types of abuse. I don’t know what my life would have looked like. I don’t know where I’d be right now, today. I am here, right now, exactly nine months later, because of what you all have done and because of all the support I got from you. I would not have been able to do that, to leave and not look back and to pick up the pieces and start over and rebuild myself, without you and your support. You each have, in your own way, helped me find the strength to leave a relationship that was destroying me from the inside, and helped me find the strength to realize that I am enough, and I am ok, and I can do this, and there is more out there.

Because of you, I look back on one of the hardest times in my life as a time that also paved the way for hope and growth and renewal. After I left my relationship, and I was starting over, putting myself back together, trying to find happiness again‚ÄĒI found it because I surrounded myself with people who have shown me support and care and friendship‚ÄĒI spent time with you, and it helped me heal. I am where I am right now because of you. So thank you, thank you so much. You have no idea how much your support has meant to me and how much it has helped me and been a rock for me to lean on during times of doubt or difficulty. I am so, so lucky. This whole thing‚ÄĒthis relationship, me leaving it, and the period after leaving‚ÄĒall of it could have gone differently, but instead…I am no longer in that relationship, and instead, I have beautiful friendships and a renewed, stronger sense of self-worth‚ÄĒone that is hard-won and resilient. Instead, I am happier. Instead, I am safe, and I am alive, and I am healing. Thank you for helping me get here. Thank you for saving my life.

A word on feminism….

The reaction I get from a lot of men when I talk to them about feminism is not that they’re against it, but rather, that they don’t see the point. “Women already have rights,” they say. And I’m lucky enough to live in a nation where that is true. Women can vote, women can go to school, women can work. But feminism isn’t exclusive to the U.S., or countries where women have rights. It’s a global issue. And even in countries where we have come farther in terms of women’s rights, we still have a long way to go. But I think a good place to start is respect. Feminism is largely about respect. It is about the belief that women should be treated with the same respect with which men are treated. It is respect that a woman’s opinions, perspectives, desires, are valid. As a woman, I believe that I should be regarded as equally competent, equally intelligent, equally worthy, equally human. I don’t want to be a pretty little thing; I don’t want to be your arm candy; I don’t want to be just another piece to complete your idea of a perfect life. I don’t want to be viewed only as someone’s wife, or sister, or daughter. I am a human being, plain and simple. I don’t want to be taught that, as a woman, my skills and talents are better suited in the home. I don’t want to be taught that my appearance is the most important thing about me. I don’t want to be taught that yes, I can have a career, but it will take a backseat to my husband’s career. I don’t want to be taught that being a wife and a mother should be my ultimate goal in life. I don’t want to be discouraged from pursuing a career that is considered a “man’s profession.”¬†I don’t want to be told that my life has limitations simply because I am a female.

I want to be looked at as a human being who is deserving of respect. I want to be looked at as a person who is capable of making sound decisions, pursuing ambitions, and being self-reliant, because that is who I am. And yes, I can be emotional, and yes, I may also be sensitive, and yes, I do identify with being empathetic and caring, and yes, those traits are typically defined as feminine traits. But no, those traits do not make me any less intelligent or any less logical or any less capable. And I don’t want these traits to be viewed as weaknesses. It is not a weakness to be privy to human emotion and to know how to deal with it and to not be afraid of it. In fact, that is an essential part of personal growth. I think it’s high time we learn that emotion, and being emotional, is simply a part of being human. It’s high time we come to terms with the fact that emotional intelligence is integral to being a functioning, self-aware, and successful person–man or woman.

I want the perception of women to change. We don’t all want the same things. We don’t want to be lumped into categories–all women who like pink and bake cookies and want to get married and have families, or those bossy man-hating women who are career-obsessed and only eat takeout.¬†There’s more to it than that. And it shouldn’t be an us-against-them sort of thing. It should be about personal choice, and whatever the choice, it should be respected.

I don’t want to feel guilty for wanting a fulfilling career instead of a family, for wanting to delay marriage, or for not having a maternal instinct. I don’t want the first question my relatives ask me at family reunions to be “Are you seeing anyone?” and then ask me why not if I say no, or rudely pry if I say yes. I want to be asked about my life, my goals, my opinions on important issues. My relationship status does not define who I am. But my goals, my opinions, my passions? These do, and knowing these is knowing who I am.

I don’t want to feel like I’m doing less with my life if I do only want a marriage and a family instead of a career. ¬†And if I want a marriage and a family, I don’t want to be taught that I will always need to obey and submit to my husband. I don’t want my agency and my authority to be undermined because of silly social constructs. I want my marriage to be a partnership, and I want to teach my children that that is what a marriage must look like in order for it to work.

I don’t want to feel like I’m chasing the impossible if I find that I want the career and the marriage and the family. I don’t want to feel like I need to make tradeoffs. I don’t want to feel like I need to marry down if I want my own career. I don’t want to feel like no upstanding man in a respectable profession will want a woman who is in an equally respectable profession because he thinks she won’t be able to support his career or maintain the household, or she won’t want to. I don’t want to feel like I won’t be supported if I pursue my career, and I’ll have to bear my career work and our housework and family work all on my own. I don’t want to feel like I need to be smart, but not too smart, ambitious, but not too ambitious, in order to have the things I want out of my personal life. I want to feel like my potential as a wife is not wholly based on what I do for a living, or what I want to do with my career–but instead, is based on my support for my husband, my willingness to work in order to keep our relationship alive, my choice¬†to love and respect my husband every day. And I want to know that we’ll both work toward our career goals, and we’ll both work to maintain our home and our family and our marriage.

I want to feel like I am valued for more than¬†just my appearance or my cooking abilities or my cute hobbies. I want to feel like my worth as a woman and as a person lies in more important things, such as the passion with which I do things and the courage with which I go after my ambitions and the desire I have for helping to make a difference and the love I have for the people in my life. So my challenge to you is this: prove me wrong. Prove that my opinions on how women are perceived are wrong. This may not change the world overnight, but it’ll be a drop in the bucket. If enough people prove me wrong, then maybe it’ll be big enough for people to notice.

Cho Chang: Why the books may not have been fair to her

I came across this poetry slam video¬†by Rachel Rostad a few years ago, and it really did get me thinking about the comparisons between Harry Potter’s two love interests, Cho Chang and Ginny Weasley. When I first heard Rachel’s poem, it really resonated with me because I did wonder why Harry’s “weaker” love interest was portrayed as an Asian female. It is reminiscent of the submissive, tragically love-struck Asian woman present in such works like Madama Butterfly and Miss Saigon. While initially when I read about Cho’s character, I was excited that there was an Asian character in the books–but as I read Order of the Phoenix, I quickly became disillusioned with how her character was portrayed. And when I reached Half-Blood Prince and read about how Ginny’s character (quite suddenly and jarringly) blossomed into someone confident and tough and completely anti-Cho, I was even more let down.¬†I wrote a post on why I didn’t like Ginny’s character a while back, and I remember thinking while I wrote this that Ginny’s character not only seems like a perfect complement to Harry–she also seems like the quintessential anti-Cho. And I don’t quite agree with how Rowling portrayed Harry’s failed relationship with Cho, and how she portrayed Harry’s subsequent, successful relationship with Ginny.

Why? What’s wrong with portraying Harry’s first relationship as difficult, with two teenagers in awkward, confusing stages of their lives not knowing how to handle each other? Absolutely nothing. And that’s exactly why this is a problem. Harry and Cho’s relationship is a very realistic portrayal of a relationship. In relationships, people often do fight. People often do make up later. People often do feel confused about how to understand their partner, or how to feel understood by them. Harry and Cho’s relationship felt real. It wasn’t the best relationship, but the¬†things that Harry and Cho went through are things that every couple goes through, even those in great, healthy relationships.

On the other hand, Harry’s relationship with Ginny, although not as fleshed out and written in as much detail as Cho’s, doesn’t seem nearly as realistic. Ginny’s character is a Mary-Sue–a perfect, charming, cool girl–compared to Cho’s portrayal of an emotional teenage girl, confused and grieving over her lost love, Cedric. Cho, while emotional, difficult, and complicated, seems more like a real person than Ginny does. Yet the relationship that works is the one where the girl is, essentially, “perfect.” The relationship that works is the one where the¬†girl¬†doesn’t inconvenience her boyfriend with her silly emotions–and even if she has them, she certainly won’t show them. Where Cho seems irrational, Ginny is level-headed. Where Cho seems emotional, Ginny has it together. While Cho is weak, Ginny is strong. And while it isn’t a bad thing to show that one girl’s personality just works better with Harry’s, it isn’t fair to show the other girl as “flawed,” with her emotional nature portrayed as a bad trait. Cho is made out to be the weak one–she’s the one where Harry had the failed relationship. She’s the one that was too emotional, that was too hard to please, too hard to control. And making Ginny, the successful relationship, the stark opposite of Cho implies the message that¬†in order to make a relationship work, you shouldn’t show emotions. You shouldn’t be vulnerable around the person with whom you’re in a relationship–because, you know, who does that? Relationships shouldn’t be messy, no one should be weepy, no one should lose their shit no matter how crappy they feel. And this, of course, is about as far from realistic as it can get. Because relationships are messy. People do get emotional–incredibly emotional–because they care. Relationships can make people a little crazy, a little jealous, a little more emotional than they typically¬†are. And ironically, that’s normal.

Moreover, portraying Ginny as a sort of “cool girl”, who never gets mad, never cries, never challenges Harry in any way, and showing that this relationship is the one that just works, implicitly places the responsibility of making a relationship work on the female. “Oh, your relationship isn’t working? Well maybe just be a little more understanding, a little less emotional. Maybe learn to like sports, be more of a guys’ girl.” (This basically encompasses the entirety of Ginny’s personality.) And if you’re not like that, well tough shit–you’re just going to have to find a real-life Michael Corner. Harry and Ginny work because Ginny never really gives him grief. There’s no doubt that Harry cares for Ginny, and I’m sure his reasons for loving her encompass more than just her tough nature, but one of the main reasons Harry begins to stop¬†caring for Cho and begins to dread seeing her is because she’s too difficult.¬†Harry’s choice of Ginny over Cho makes him seem lazy¬†because¬†he doesn’t seem to want to deal with real human emotion in a romantic relationship. And “one of the many wonderful things about Ginny” is that she “isn’t particularly weepy.” Ginny’s personality almost strikes me as a little misogynistic, because it includes all the great things that a guy wants in a girl, without any of the messier, more complicated, more emotional parts. Ginny is a poorly developed, poorly represented character, and choosing her to be Harry’s love interest doesn’t send a message consistent with the book series.

I do think that Cho Chang may have gotten the short end of the stick in the book series. And understandably, Harry was a teenage boy in Book 5, so it’s not expected that he handle those relationship problems in the most graceful way. He did what he could, and ultimately, he felt betrayed by Cho–and rightfully so. But I don’t think it’s quite fair to pit Ginny and Cho up against each other and show how Ginny is a baller while Cho is weak and weepy. Cho was emotional because she just lost Cedric–and emotion isn’t a sign of weakness (a message enforced throughout the books). So it feels contradictory that Cho is portrayed as the weaker of the two women because of her (completely warranted) emotional state. While Cho may not have been right for Harry,¬†her character shouldn’t be portrayed as inferior to Ginny’s. They’re both deserving women in their own right, and maybe the books could have been a little more objective towards Cho.

Strong Disney Female Leads: Does Anna from Frozen fit the bill?

Many viewers touted Anna’s character in Frozen as a welcome change from the stereotypical Disney princess–and many thought this was a nice departure from the feminine, perfect, dainty female stereotype. To me, however, this only perpetuated a different female stereotype: the stereotype of the “adorkable,” quirky, awkward, spunky, girl who doesn’t need to be rescued¬†and¬†isn’t afraid to get her shoes dirty–but still looks pretty. Anna’s personality almost seems like a milder, less obvious version of the “cool girl” stereotype (also discussed here)–she’s down for adventure, she isn’t “needy” or “clingy”, she wants to do the rescuing rather than be rescued, but she does it all while still looking conventionally attractive. She sort of reminds me of a Disney version of Jennifer Lawrence–Anna says awkward things but people somehow find it endearing and refreshing because she’s “real”. The truth is, people find this stuff endearing and adorkable because Anna, JLaw, Zooey Deschanel, & co. are still considered pretty–they just portray the sort of cool, guys’ girl-but-still-hot type of character that most find quite appealing. But the same kind of weird and awkward personality on a girl who’s “average-looking” wouldn’t be taken in quite the same way. It’s not a pleasant truth, but it is the truth, as difficult as it is to admit. And it is the truth because characters like¬†the “manic pixie dream girl” or the “cool girl” are just that–characters. They don’t wholly encompass the complexity of real people. These characters were created to fulfill some sort of fantasy of the ideal woman–which in itself is sort of ludicrous because the ideal woman, or the ideal man, is simply a figment constructed, and continually perpetuated, by the media. And I think touting Anna’s personality (and that of any other “cool girl” in Hollywood)¬†as a more appealing personality, or as more “real” and “down-to-earth” isn’t healthy either–it still perpetuates a misogynistic female stereotype¬†that many women try to fit, and it implicitly sends the message that women who don’t share these personality traits are artificial, pretentious, or “crazy”–which isn’t true at all.¬†I think Frozen tried too hard to break away from Disney princess stereotypes, but as a result, the character development¬†felt weak, rushed, and thrown-together–and I don’t think it quite broke away from stereotypes as much as others claim it did.

This is unfortunate, because Disney has previously done a fantastic job of defying princess stereotypes in previous films–Mulan and Merida certainly defy female damsel-in-distress or princess stereotypes in more powerful ways than Anna’s character. Although the former Disney heroines do still fit the conventional attractiveness bill, their beauty isn’t a central part of their character (unlike Snow White, Cinderella, Aurora), and it isn’t what makes them likable. What really makes Mulan and Merida¬†compelling characters is the fact that they undergo real internal conflicts about who they are, what they stand for, and what they’re capable of.¬†And in the end, they do discover themselves. They realize that they’re capable of much more than they gave themselves credit for. In Mulan’s case, she finds that strength, determination, and wit that has been in her all along–and she saves her country. Merida and her mother come to find that understanding and acceptance of each other, despite their different ideologies. Both Mulan and Merida¬†come into their own and learn¬†that they don’t need to mold themselves into somebody they’re not. And, most of all, they no longer mourn the fact that they aren’t like everyone else. They learn to love themselves for exactly who they are,¬†and that self-acceptance is what ultimately helps to resolve the central conflicts in the films. I don’t really see that Anna’s character has the same arc. Her character remains stagnant for most of the film. And I wanted to see that growth for a main character–that kind of development is what makes these stories so novel and yet so familiar at the same time. Because while the story may be new, people profoundly relate to these internal struggles that the protagonists face. People know the feeling of not quite fitting in, feeling a little left out, and wondering if something is wrong with them. And when a character in a story like this eventually discovers who they are and learns to love and accept themselves, that is what gives people hope.

So, in a word, no–I don’t think Anna’s character fits the bill of a strong, female lead. I don’t think her character should be viewed¬†as such. Her character, in my opinion, is a weak impersonation of a different sort of female stereotype–but a stereotype nonetheless. There weren’t any scenes in the film (even her self-sacrifice for Elsa) that made me really want to root for her character, or that made me relate to her character, or that made me view her character as a fresh, modern take on Disney female leads. Anna’s character was flat, and she didn’t learn anything in the end. Her character at the beginning of the film was exactly the same as it was at the end of the film. Her character, like other sort of flat, Mary-Sue-type characters (Ginny Weasley & co.), doesn’t really stand for anything or represent anything meaningful. Had Anna’s character been more fully developed, it might have changed my opinion on Frozen.

Why Frozen just isn’t my favorite Disney film

So I know this is almost a year after Frozen debuted in theaters, and while I did watch the film shortly after it came out in theaters, I couldn’t quite put my finger on why I wasn’t blown away by it until watching it for the second time, as I did earlier today.

As I watched the film earlier today, a ton of questions flooded into my head during the film that never got answered. Where does Elsa’s power come from? How did Anna grow up? Her character is so bubbly and open–and we know she’s the stark contrast to Elsa, but what other factors contributed to her personality formation? What about the girls’ parents? We only know that the parents told Elsa to keep her powers a secret to protect Anna…but how did this affect Elsa and Anna’s parents? What I really missed from Frozen was the character development–how they¬†became the way they are, and how they changed throughout the film.

Anna’s and Elsa’s personalities in particular are things I wished were more well thought-out. Elsa and Anna were made to be opposites–and that was made apparent in the film. However, in terms of their individual personalities, I just couldn’t believe them as thoughtfully-developed characters. Elsa shuts everyone out, including her sister, because her powers caused her to hurt her sister. Anna can’t understand why Elsa shuts her out–yet she’s the quirky, bubbly, outgoing opposite of Anna. And while the sisters eventually reconcile, they really don’t have much character growth throughout the film that leads them to the resolution that they reach. And while Anna’s character has frequently been touted as a refreshing departure from the typical Disney princess, I don’t think that’s quite true (more on Anna’s character in my post here). While the critique for many previous Disney princesses is that they are beautiful and¬†smart, or beautiful and strong, with beauty still a defining trait of the princesses, Anna is also beautiful, and her beauty is a defining trait for her–she is no different from these portrayals of Disney princesses. If anything, Anna’s portrayal is weaker, because her sense of self-sacrifice doesn’t come across as strongly¬†as it does with other Disney female leads such as Mulan or Belle, who both sacrifice themselves for their fathers–the reason being is that both Mulan and Belle are much more fully developed characters that experience some kind of growth throughout their films.

While I hate to make the comparison between Tangled and Frozen because it’s been made so many times before (for very similar reasons), what I really missed in Frozen that I loved in Tangled was the character growth–Rapunzel’s growth from a sheltered, naive girl to someone strong-willed and independent, and Flynn’s transformation from a selfish, cunning thief to a self-sacrificing man who loves and cares deeply for¬†Rapunzel. Most other Disney movies focus on this character growth–Simba’s eventual acceptance of responsibility in The Lion King, Mulan’s discovery of her identity after her journey disguising herself as a soldier in place of her father, Merida and her mother’s eventual ability to understand each other in Brave. This sort of character growth was what really made me connect with and root for the characters in those films, but that kind of growth and journey wasn’t really there in Frozen. While the protagonists in Tangled and Frozen do go on some kind of quest that takes up the greater part of the film, the quest in Tangled really pulls in the viewers because of the¬†profound character development, and its entertainment factor is augmented, rather than carried by, the quippy dialogue and action among the main characters and side characters. On the other hand,¬†Frozen’s quest needs those¬†exchanges among Anna, Kristoff, and Olaf, and needs the comic relief from the side-character Olaf, in order for audiences to really be captured by it.

And what about Hans? Hans does a complete 180 three-quarters of the way into the movie, from sweet and charming¬†to evil and greedy, plotting to steal Elsa’s throne–and I did not see it coming at all. What else motivated him to manipulate Anna and attempt to murder Elsa, besides having 12 older brothers? It’s hard to believe Hans’ character turnaround, because his feelings for Anna (whether real or not) were quite believable at the beginning of the film. He did look at her affectionately, and it didn’t seem contrived–it seemed real, especially considering that at the end of the film, Hans tells Anna that Elsa was the preferable choice for a marriage. Hans did seem genuinely worried for Anna as she took off to find Elsa–and when Anna’s horse returned without Anna. Hans did seem like a genuinely decent person when he tried to save Elsa from the other men trying to kill her in her ice palace. He deflects one man’s fatal arrow aimed at Elsa, and he tells Elsa to “not be the monster they think she is.” To me, Hans did seem like someone empathetic and good, and he did seem to actually care for Anna. If¬†Hans were evil the whole time, what hints did he leave to indicate that he had ulterior motives (besides that one line in the “Love is an Open Door” song about “finally finding his place” and having 12 older brothers in line for the throne before him)? While Hans’s motives for plotting to steal Elsa’s throne do seem believable, when he tells Anna that he has 12 older brothers, it doesn’t seem like something he’s embittered about–it simply seems as though he shared Anna’s feelings of being left out by a sibling. Nothing in Hans’s demeanor changes to indicate that this one detail about his life might prove to be something of more significance later on in the plot. Although the love song with Anna and Hans does seem a bit weird and displaced at the beginning of the film, that doesn’t seem like enough of a hint that Hans might be evil–all it does is hint that this “romance” between them is likely not true love. All it does is further support the portrayal of Anna’s character as naive and desperate for love–but not the idea that Hans could be evil. I think the foreshadowing of Hans as a villain could have been more thoughtful and less random, and showing this would have made his character, and the film, much stronger.

In terms of entertainment, I will say that Frozen more than delivered. I was thoroughly entertained by the cinematography, the side characters (I think Olaf was probably my favorite character in the entire film), and especially the music. Idina Menzel and Kristin Bell were wonderful together in all of their duets. As a film meant to entertain, Frozen was spot on. However, in terms of a story, and a strong plot, built on a foundation of strong, well-developed, dynamic characters, I don’t think Frozen quite hit the mark. I still like the film, but it isn’t my favorite Disney film. The Disney films I love that really hit home (Brave, Tangled, Mulan, The Lion King) all feature some kind of character growth–and focus more on the development and journey of the character rather than focusing on trying to completely avoid Disney stereotypes–and this is where I think Frozen went wrong. If Frozen had focused more on creating multifaceted characters and the journey that these characters take to become better versions of themselves, rather than trying to avoid creating a typical Disney film, I would have enjoyed Frozen much, much more. And it’s not like the concept of a strong Disney princess¬†valuing familial love over romantic love has never been done before. Brave did this beautifully, as did Mulan and Beauty and the Beast. I think Frozen tried too hard to defy stereotypes, to pull the rug out from under the audience–and this weakened the film and made it a flimsy adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s original fairy tale. The basis of a great Disney film comes from the characters and their growth as the film progresses, and I greatly missed this in Frozen.