COMMUNITY OF THE LONELY
When I was growing up, my parents used to tell me stories about being a teenager. I was utterly fascinated by the idea of adolescence and the subsequent freedom that would come with driving, being in high school, and hanging out with my friends without supervision. Perhaps I watched too many John Hughes movies, but I couldn’t wait for my life to look exactly like that. What I never anticipated was the drastic change in generations of adolescents. The adolescence of Millennials was nothing like what my generation (Generation Z) got. I didn’t expect how the Internet and social media would impact us, and how different our teenage experience would be from Molly Ringwald’s.
Growing up is hard. Regardless of time period, most teenagers experience similar emotions as they grow up. Each one of us is trying to figure out who we are and where our place in the world is. Most of us were mean to other kids at some point, and in turn, other kids were mean to us. Adolescence is difficult enough without the strain and obligation of social media. 2019 is a unique time to grow up because this is the first generation whose social media identity, or image, is created and cultivated before their identity in the real world. This is a generation that is growing up with technology and social media as a staple in their lives. Many researchers and psychologists have studied how social media affects us. One study that examines this is “Social Media and Children’s Mental Health: A Review of the Evidence.” It is a detailed and factual report written by Emily Frith, the director of mental health of the Education Policy Institute of the United Kingdom written in June 2017. It shows social media’s extensive impact on kids and teenagers, including information on the risks to mental health, cyberbullying, and the concept of “sharing too much” on the Internet. The excessive use of social media platforms by adolescents and children is a risk to their mental health and general wellbeing. As a young adult in a world of social media, I have personally experienced the perils and the deeper stress that it puts on growing up. Another article that examines the detriments of technology on the wellbeing of adolescents is Jean Twenge’s “Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?” As anyone who has been through middle and high school can attest, everyone is just trying to fit in. However, the changes in behavior and general morale in Generation Z, or “iGen” as Twenge calls it, are starkly different from our predecessors, the Millennials. These changes are because of the Smartphone, social media, and the infinite knowledge and virtual access at our fingertips. (Twenge)
One symptom of social media is FOMO or “Fear Of Missing Out”. FOMO is a rampant stressor among teenagers today. In an article in the New York Times by Jenna Wortham, she defines FOMO as, “the blend of anxiety, inadequacy and irritation that can flare up while skimming social media like Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare and Instagram.” Scrolling through social media may seem like a simple, harmless act, but in fact, as Wortham points out, this feeling of FOMO can incite “anxiety, inadequacy, and irritation.” Why do we continue to seek out validation from platforms that cause us to have anxiety?
On Halloween of my freshman year of high school, I began to really understand the concept of “FOMO.” All of the other 14 year olds bailed on me and I was home alone with my family. I was upset, but having a good time watching Halloween movies with my parents. I began to check social media platforms, only to find that all of the other kids in my grade were at the same Halloween party. They were posting photos and anecdotes from the night, and I was devastated. My mom always talks about how kids have always excluded each other, but you never used to have to see it in your face. Now, with social media, you have to watch the kids have fun without you. Even though it was making me miserable, I continued checking social media that night as if it were some sort of drug. Perhaps the reason we continue to indulge in social media platforms is because of its addictive qualities. In an attempt to understand the negative impact of social media on mental health, June Eric Udorie writes, “A new study has found that teenagers who engage with social media during the night could be damaging their sleep and increasing their risk of anxiety and depression. Teenagers spoke about the pressure they felt to make themselves available 24/7, and the resulting anxiety if they did not respond immediately to texts or posts. Teens are so emotionally invested in social media that a fifth of secondary school pupils will wake up at night and log on, just to make sure they don’t miss out.” (Udorie) Keeping up with social media has begun to rise to the top of our priority lists. Many of us acknowledge social media’s negative impact, yet we continue to use it. This is because it has become a kind of addiction. I recently had a conversation with my 15-year-old cousin who is self-proclaimed “obsessed with social media.” I asked her if she would ever consider deleting her social media accounts, or at least take a break from them. She responded, “Why would I do that? That would be social suicide.” The perception that frequency and “keeping up” on social media dictates your social status in real life is something my cousin, along with many of her friends believe to be true. This has caused her to be completely ruled by social media and the opinions of other people.
Alice Walton’s article “6 Ways Social Media Affects Our Mental Health” in Forbes cites a study done by Nottingham Trent University about addiction to social media. The study wrote, “it may be plausible to speak specifically of ‘Facebook Addiction Disorder’…because addiction criteria, such as neglect of personal life, mental preoccupation, escapism, mood modifying experiences, tolerance and concealing the addictive behavior, appear to be present in some people who use [social networks] excessively.” (Walton) This study notes “escapism” as a symptom of “Facebook Addiction Disorder.” This makes me wonder what people are trying to escape from? What is going on in our day-to-day lives that compel us to turn to social media instead of the people around us?
This mode of escaping is one of the elements that separate Gen Z and Millennials so vastly. One of the biggest reasons that Gen Z is so different from Millennials is because of the social habits we’ve developed. In her article “Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?” Jean Twenge explores the comparisons between Millennials and Generation Z, and in turn, why Smartphones have had such a large impact on the social behaviors of Generation Z. Twenge writes, “More comfortable in their bedrooms than in a car or at a party, today’s teens are physically safer than teens have ever been. They’re markedly less likely to get into a car accident and, having less of a taste for alcohol than their predecessors, are less susceptible to drinking’s attendant ills.” (Twenge) Physical safety is absolutely a positive element of isolation. Few priorities come before physical safety. However, are the benefits of isolation worth the depression and anxiety it causes? Perhaps we are more comfortable in our bedrooms because we understand that being with other people can be a risk. Perhaps we think that people are unpredictable and unreliable. Perhaps, this is why we turn to our phones and social media to be a source of comfort, instead of people. However, social skills and connecting with other people is invaluable. Feeling connected to other people, not just virtually, but face-to-face, is often what makes us feel better. However, the face-to-face human connection is starting to happen way less than in previous generations. “12th-graders in 2015 were going out less often than eighth-graders did as recently as 2009.” (Twenge) 12th-graders are around 17 years old, meaning most of them are able to drive. The ability to drive grants a certain freedom that teenagers in previous generations longed for. The drop in social activity is bizarre and also concerning. The face-to-face interaction that not only teenagers, but all people need is not happening as much as it needs to. Social skills are a practice, like anything else. The less someone exercises this social muscle, the more uncomfortable it will be for them. This explains the inherent social awkwardness of Gen Z. Twenge cites the statistic, “The number of teens who get together with their friends nearly every day dropped by more than 40 percent from 2000 to 2015; the decline has been especially steep recently.” Given this statistic, it makes sense that teenagers are worse at socializing because they haven’t had as much exposure to each other in person.
Frontiers, an open-access science academic publisher, published a study done about whether or not face-to-face interactions improve the mood of people. While the study’s purpose was to test this question in the workplace, the data applies to the mood of all people the same. People wore sensors that could access their mood. The study found that, “…the main contribution of this work is our demonstration that informal face-to-face interaction strongly relates to mood state…” (Watanabe) By spending more time alone with their phone and not with other people, members of Gen Z are worsening their mood and perpetrating depression and anxiety. Even if our physical safety has improved, perhaps our worsening mental health is causing just as much damage as physical danger. “The suicide rate for girls ages 15 to 19 doubled from 2007 to 2015, when it reached its highest point in 40 years, according to the CDC. The suicide rate for boys ages 15 to 19 increased by 30 percent over the same time period.” (Holmes) 2007 to 2015 is the precise time period in which social media came to rise. This statistic shows that there is a direct correlation between teen suicide and social media. Perhaps physical safety has also worsened, then.
Social media also plays a significant role in the disempowerment of women. Apps such as Instagram are where celebrities have some of their biggest platforms. Beyonce, for example, has 114.7 million followers on Instagram. Kylie Jenner has 107.8 million followers. Celebrities like Beyonce and Kylie Jenner use this platform largely to post photos of themselves. Beyonce’s last 12 photos have been photos of herself. (Instagram) This is a big reason 114.7 million people follow her. In recent years, some celebrities have begun to virtually alter their photos of themselves to make their bodies align better with societal standards of beauty. For example, in 2014 Beyonce posted a photo of herself on Instagram in a bikini. In the photo, she’s standing on stairs and it’s clear the photo had been altered because the stair in between her thighs is crooked.
Figure 1: Shamsian, Jacob. “17 Celebrities Who Posted Photoshopped Pictures of Themselves on Instagram.” INSIDER, INSIDER, 5 Apr. 2018, www.thisisinsider.com/celebrity-photoshop-fail-instagram-social-media-2017-5.
This is one of the more obvious photoshops, however there have been many. In fact, the title of the article this photo came from is called, “17 celebrities who posted Photoshopped pictures of themselves on Instagram.” By photoshopping photos of their bodies, celebrities are enforcing unrealistic expectations of women’s bodies, making everyday women feel as though their bodies aren’t good enough or what they should be. In an article for Time Magazine about “Why Instagram Is the Worst Social Media for Mental Health,” Amanda MacMillan explores the disempowerment of women on Instagram. MacMillan writes, “…Instagram, where personal photos take center stage, received the worst scores for body image and anxiety. As one survey respondent wrote, ‘Instagram easily makes girls and women feel as if their bodies aren’t good enough as people add filters and edit their pictures in order for them to look ‘perfect’.’” (MacMillan) Even average, non-celebrity women and teenagers have taken to apps like “Facetune” and others that alter their appearance.
I interviewed a 16-year-old girl that lives in Los Angeles (Girl A) about the “photoshopping” phenomenon among girls, specifically at her Los Angeles private school. She said, “I think they use it (Facetune) to impress guys and honestly just to impress other girls and to make people think that they’re flawless… it’s to the point that there are no blemishes or marks on their face and their skin looks completely smooth.” Another 17-year-old girl that goes to a public high school in New York (Girl B) that I interviewed said, “It’s changed a lot, but I know when I was a freshman a lot of people would use Facetune to either make themselves look skinnier or whiten their teeth.” Teenagers are impressionable and are only beginning to learn how the world works. When they look at Instagram and primarily see girls that are skinny and have completely clear skin, it enforces the idea that this is what’s “normal,” which isn’t true. In middle and high school, kids are going through puberty, so body types are all different, and most kids have acne. Leading them to believe that symptoms of puberty aren’t “normal” and that there is something wrong with them only enforces insecurity and loneliness. When I asked Girl A why she thought that girls feel the need to appear flawless, she said, “…it feels good when people on social media comment saying how stunning or beautiful you are and they think that by looking physically perfect with no blemishes that they will achieve that and win their friends approval.” I proceeded to ask her if she felt annoyed that this was happening and she said, “It’s not their fault that they feel the need to. It’s society and social media and magazines and billboards and photos of models who are literally flawless and perfect looking because it’s their job to be pretty and they have makeup on their side. Then normal girls who should be focusing on school and their passions think that every girl needs to look like that with apps like Facetune and post it to social media to get people’s approval.”
When I was around 15, there was one Instagram model that my friends and I all followed on Instagram and were obsessed with. Alexis Reneg, or @alexisren on Instagram, was mesmerizing to us and everything we wanted to be. She posted photos of herself in bikinis in Greece and other tropical places. Not only did we envy how she looked, but how she lived her life as well. Her and her boyfriend at the time were always at the beach on an island clad in their designer bathing suits and impossibly “perfect” bodies. My friends and I talked about them constantly, and about wanting to live their lives. Last year, however, Alexis came out that she struggled with anorexia and said that it was because of Instagram. In an article published in “The Sun” by Alison Maloney, Alexis discusses her eating disorder. Maloney writes, “As her fame grew, and she began to travel the world, Alexis became obsessed with her body image and began eating less.” Maloney also cites Alexis saying, “…I felt like my body was the only reason why people liked me." (Maloney) This pressure on appearance forces girls like Alexis, who was only 18 at the time this started, to think that how they look is the most important thing. Subsequently, the girls looking at Alexis, like my friends and I, also begun to feel bad about ourselves because we wanted to look like her, and we didn’t. Little did we, or the rest of the world, know about the excruciating pressure Alexis felt, or her eating disorder.
Just like Alexis, many people, specifically teenagers, create idealized versions of themselves on social media. When posting a photo on Instagram, for example, they will choose the most flattering. They will share photos from the coolest places they go, or the most interesting people they are with. Perhaps this idealization comes from the same craving to “seem flawless” to other people. This craving has become so strong that many people will do things for the sole purpose of posting about it on social media. Back in September I went to a concert. There was a moment in the middle of the concert when I looked around me, and every single person was filming the concert on Snapchat. Everyone was watching the performer through their phones, even though they were actually, physically, there. I turned and asked my friend why she felt the need to film it, and she said she wanted to remember it. I wondered if there was also an element of bragging that was involved, since she was filming on Snapchat, and sending it to other people.
Although there are many aspects of social media that have an extremely negative effect on the mental health of teenagers, there are a few elements of it that should be acknowledged. Given recent political events, much of Gen Z is outraged by our political administration. Celebrities have a large platform on social media, and therefore, access to masses of people. While there are many celebrities who only use social media to self-promote, there are also many celebrities in Gen Z that use social media to discuss real issues and advertise their beliefs. Disney star Rowan Blanchard is a great example of this. Blanchard has 625,000 followers on Twitter and 5.2 million followers on Instagram.
Figure 2: account, Rowan BlanchardVerified. “Rowan Blanchard (@RowanBlanchard).” Twitter, Twitter, 11 Nov. 2016, twitter.com/RowanBlanchard.
In this photograph, paired with the caption, Blanchard is expressing her beliefs about equality and her disapproval of Trump winning the election by using social media as a tool. By using a toxic platform to promote positivity, Blanchard is finding a way to spread love and equality out of social media, instead of the usual judgment and comparison that comes out of it. Blanchard, among many other individuals with large platforms, consistently uses social media to be a positive influence on her followers. This being said, there are pitfalls of this “social media activism.”
The social media world is still a false world, that doesn’t exist in real space. So, even by expressing beliefs about content that really matters, it’s still happening inside a false world that revolves around how people appear. “Social media activism” has become a sort of trend among everyday teenagers. Long gone are the days where the “cool” kids are the ones who don’t care about anything. The “cool” kids today are the social media activists. I use the term “activism” loosely. Gen Z’s idea of protest is putting a pride flag in their Instagram story. This is passive protesting. Social media activism has created a world in which caring about issues is “cool,” so many teenagers will “protest” to appear a certain way to their peers. In this way, “social media activism” is a double-edged sword.
About three months ago, I decided to delete all of my social media accounts. My friends all told me they respected my decision to do so, but I also felt a sense of judgment. I didn’t want to keep feeling FOMO, I wanted to learn how to better interact with the people around me, to stop feeling so anxious, and to stop comparing my body and my life to everyone else’s. After eliminating that stressor from my life, I feel extraordinarily happier and more focused on myself than other people around me. I’ve begun to notice things around me that I never would have before. I think if we begin to notice the pull that social media has over us, then maybe we can begin control it, versus it controlling us.
Holmes, Lindsay. “Suicide Rates For Teen Boys And Girls Are Climbing.” The Huffington Post, TheHuffingtonPost.com, 4 Aug. 2017, www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/suicide-rates-teen-girls_us_59848b64e4b0cb15b1be13f4.
Homayoun, Ana. “Perspective | What Teens Wish Their Parents Knew about Social Media.”The Washington Post, WP Company, 9 Jan. 2018, www.washingtonpost.com/news/parenting/wp/2018/01/09/what-teens-wish-their-parents-knew-about-social-media/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.d8b683ab84af.
Instagram. “Beyoncé (@Beyonce) • Instagram Photos and Videos.” Instagram, 2018, www.instagram.com/beyonce/.
Leno, Michele. “Social Media and Mental Health.” The National Psychologist, 24 Sept. 2017, nationalpsychologist.com/2017/09/social-media-and-mental-health/104050.html.
MacMillan, Amanda. “Why Instagram Is the Worst Social Media for Mental Health.” Time, Time, 25 May 2017, time.com/4793331/instagram-social-media-mental-health/.
Maloney, Alison. “'Instagram Caused My Eating Disorder'... Model Alexis Ren Reveals Internet Stardom Left Her Battling Body Issues.” The Sun, The Sun, 28 May 2017, www.thesun.co.uk/living/3668579/instagram-caused-my-eating-disorder-model-alexis-ren-reveals-internet-stardom-left-her-battling-body-issues/.
Martin, Florence, et al. “Middle School Students’ Social Media Use.” Journal of Educational Technology & Society, vol. 21, no. 1, 2018, pp. 213–224. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/26273881.
Miller, Daniel, et al. “Academic Studies of Social Media.” How the World Changed Social Media, 1st ed., vol. 1, UCL Press, London, 2016, pp. 9–24. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt1g69z35.9.
Twenge, Jean M. “Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 19 Mar. 2018, www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/09/has-the-smartphone-destroyed-a-generation/534198/.
Udorie, June Eric. “Social Media Is Harming the Mental Health of Teenagers. The State Has to Act | June Eric Udorie.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 16 Sept. 2015, www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/sep/16/social-media-mental-health-teenagers-government-pshe-lessons.
Walton, Alice G. “6 Ways Social Media Affects Our Mental Health.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 3 Oct. 2017, www.forbes.com/sites/alicegwalton/2017/06/30/a-run-down-of-social-medias-effects-on-our-mental-health/#2987d02c2e5a.
Watanabe, Jun-ichiro, et al. “Informal Face-to-Face Interaction Improves Mood State Reflected in Prefrontal Cortex Activity.” Frontiers, Frontiers, 18 Apr. 2016, www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnhum.2016.00194/full.
Wortham, Jenna. “How Social Media Can Induce Feelings of 'Missing Out'.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 9 Apr. 2011, www.nytimes.com/2011/04/10/business/10ping.html.
ORIENTALISM IN “SEX AND THE CITY 2”
Rhetoric is a powerful tool. Creating a specific discourse can sometimes even become justification for violence. Such is the case with “Orientalism,” a topic discussed by Edward Said in his book, Orientalism. In this text, Said unpacks the loaded word, it’s connotations and assumptions, and delves into the power relations that it creates. Though written over 40 years ago, Said’s book is just as relevant today as it was in 1978. The 2010 film, Sex and the City 2, is also living proof that Orientalism has not been left behind in our dark past and is alive and well.
Among the many things wrong with this film, perhaps the most pertinent is its disrespectful, white feminist, and orientalist view of Abu Dhabi and the people that reside there. The film begins as expected, the four leads, Carrie, Charlotte, Miranda, and Samantha complain to one another about their seemingly fine, upper-middle class lives. The film really takes a turn for the worst when Samantha is approached by an Arab sheikh and somehow, subsequently, the four women are offered an all-expenses paid trip to Abu Dhabi. This is where the problems with the film really begin.
The women arrive in Abu Dhabi with the protagonist, Carrie, wearing a bejeweled turban. By doing so, the film is culturally appropriating the turban. By this I mean that Carrie is wearing the turban for fashion purposes, completely without acknowledging the cultural meaning of the turban, which the film proceeds to ridicule throughout the rest of the film. Wearing this bejeweled turban is a way of viewing the “Orient” as exotic and mysterious, a common misconception in the “Occident,” as Said calls it, that he mentions later in his text. Later in the film, Samantha wears an Egyptian headdress. The film is set in the UAE, not Egypt, and yet the film has no problem with homogenizing the Middle East and eradicating any true distinction between the two countries. In doing so, the film is making a conscious decision to essentialize and generalize the “Orient,” making it clear that what matters to them is not the specific details of the country, but the idea of the “Orient.” Said said it best when he wrote, “The Orient was almost a European invention” (Said 1). This quotation illustrates the otherness of the “Orient” to the “Occident.” To them, the “Orient” is a homogenous place of fascination, each country empty of distinctive or true characteristics, but rather full of a collective primitiveness. Through this, the idea of the “Orient” exists to prove that they are what Europeans, and in this case the women from Sex and the City 2, are not: uncivilized.
Later in the film, as the women are settling into their hotel, they sit and discuss two women sitting near them and their niqab’s. Carrie comments, “Well, I could get into the head wrap, but the veil across the mouth, it freaks me out. It’s like they don’t want them to have a voice.” Carrie also laughs at the woman in the niqab and the way she eats French fries, under her veil. These comments directly undermine the culture of the women they are speaking about. By judging their lifestyle, Carrie is taking on the power dynamic that Orientalism assumes. This type of comment is a specific type of Orientalism, feminist Orientalism. Through this comment, Carrie is assuming that her lifestyle and way of dressing is superior to the women in Abu Dhabi and that the women there are in some way suffering from their lack of feminist enlightenment. Further, when Carrie says, “It’s like they don’t want them to have a voice,” she is making an assumption about “the Orient,” and making a distinction between herself, a civilized, western feminist, and the intentionally nameless woman wearing the niqab, a “savage,” voiceless woman. In his text, Said writes, “…it is, rather than expresses, a certain will or intention to understand, in some cases to control, manipulate, even to incorporate, what is a manifestly different (or alternative and novel) world…” (20). This quotation is perfectly exemplified in Carrie’s above comment. The four women sit around the table discussing the woman wearing the niqab, perhaps that is the women’s “will or intention to understand,” to give them the benefit of the doubt. Additionally, in a brief moment Carrie attempts to “incorporate” the woman’s “style,” wherein she compliments a woman’s sequined trim on her niqab. However, perhaps most potent is Carrie’s desire to “control, manipulate…” the woman wearing the niqab. By implying that the woman is being forced to wear her niqab so that she doesn’t “have a voice,” Carrie is condescendingly trying to control her, or what she and other feminist Orientalists would likely call “helping her.” Just because someone is different from us, does not mean it is inferior, and it most certainly doesn’t mean that we have the right to control, or manipulate it.
Later on in the film, the four women discuss a harsh New Yorker review of one of Carrie’s articles. Carrie says, “They turned me into a cartoon and slapped tape across my mouth.” I find this comment incredibly relevant to the ways in which Sex and the City 2 employs Orientalism. Turning people into “cartoons” and the more abstract idea of taking away someone’s voice is exactly what this film does to the “Orient.” The women in the film, along with the filmmakers turn the people of Abu Dhabi into caricatures, and they do so to make themselves feel superior. They are also stripping the people of their voice, and their ability to represent themselves as they truly are, not how the film wants them to be seen. It seems that this film has taken a page out of Carl Marx’s book, utilizing the idea that, “They cannot represent themselves, they must be represented” (Marx).
In the same conversation about Carrie’s article, Miranda comments on gender politics in America by saying, “Men in the U.S. pretend they’re comfortable with strong women but really, a lot of them would prefer us eating French fries behind our veils.” This quotation is yet another judgement about the way in which middle eastern women live their lives. By saying that American men secretly wish for American women to wear niqabs, Miranda is implying that doing so would be a horrific endeavor for American women. Miranda equates the idea of wearing a niqab with not having a voice, as does Carrie in her earlier statement. Once again, this is an unfair deduction that assumes white, American feminism is the right and only way. It further implies that the women wearing niqabs need in some way to be “saved” from what Sex and the City 2 assumes is an oppressive society.
Sex and the City 2 is a film that perfectly exemplifies that many Europeans and Americans still have Orientalist beliefs. Modern Orientalism is everywhere, unfortunately. It prevailed with the Bush administrations post 9/11 rhetoric that all people from the “Orient” as Said calls it, are terrorists, it prevailed in 2010 with Sex and the City 2, and it’s still prevailing today. Orientalism depicts a false idea, not a reality. It exists to assure white Europeans and Americans that they are different from that “Other.” It creates a power dynamic between the “Orient” and the “Occident” that never leaves the “Orient” victorious. Orientalism reduces people down to an essence, and a false essence at that. All of these horrific impositions play out in Sex and the City 2.
THE SEXISM OF DRESS CODES
There used to be a rule at some schools that girls couldn’t wear shiny black shoes. According to schools, you could see up their skirts in the reflection, which was deemed “distracting” to the boys. I heard that from my friend’s dad, who was in high school in the 1970’s. In 2018, almost 50 years later, not much has changed in the world of dress codes. I went to a private high school in Los Angeles that prided itself in its progressive and liberal thinking. During orientation of my freshman year, my teachers read us the dress code. It was littered with language that discouraged students from wearing clothing that was “distracting”, “skimpy”, and other gender specific language that made my blood boil.
I have a funny relationship with the word “distracting”. On the one hand, it is completely reasonable for schools to not want their students to be distracted. It is a place of learning, after all. However, this phrasing is problematic when it comes to dress codes. Clothing is not distracting. It’s only when the clothing is on our bodies that it’s deemed “distracting.” This sends the message that our bodies are actually what is distracting, which contributes to the sexualization of teenage girls. Adolescence is confusing to begin with. We, along with our bodies, are constantly changing and figuring ourselves out. To tell someone that they have a distracting body is to place blame on her. It also tells her that she exists to be consumed, which is never true. A body is a body, nothing more and nothing less. I think it’s important to accept bodies as they are, instead of transforming them into sexual objects.
The other important piece surrounding dress coding is that it takes place in a school. When I was in high school, a few of my friends and I were pulled out of class, or told in class, to change what we were wearing. Schools are a place of learning and education. By dress coding a girl during class, schools are indirectly telling her that the clothing on her body is more important than her education. I had a friend miss an important concept in class because she was being told to change her clothes. This is never acceptable.
Another issue I have with dress codes in schools is how targeted they can be at girls. Often dress codes will use language like, “skimpy”, or point out specific clothing items most commonly worn by girls. In many schools dress codes are not enforced as strictly for boys. To be completely blunt, this is sexist. One example of these double standards is “sagging”. Sagging is a trend among primarily males, in which they “sag” their pants so that their underwear shows. I have seen boys sagging so much that the entirety of their underwear is showing. I would like to note that at many/most schools girls are forbidden from wearing clothing that shows their bra strap, which is an undergarment just as is underwear. At my high school, boys did not get dress coded for sagging.
My biggest issue with dress codes in high school is that they dress code bodies, not clothing. What I mean by this is the result of two girls with very different body types wearing the same, or similar outfits to school. Often, as it occurred in my high school, the girl with the curvier body type would get dress coded, and the skinnier girl would not. You can imagine the impact that this may have on the girl with the curvier body: what’s wrong with my body? Why was I dress coded, but not her? Why am I distracting but not her?, etc. We can never contribute to making someone believe that there is something inherently wrong with their body. We are born with one body, and body insecurity is something that is relevant to everyone, not just teenage girls. We should all understand that.
A CHEETO BECOMES PRESIDENT
When I was seven, I was obsessed with the Home Alone movies. If you’re not familiar, they are charming films in which the main character, Kevin, gets accidentally left home alone while his whole family goes out of town. In the sequel, Kevin goes to New York alone. In one scene, he is wandering around a big fancy hotel when he asks a man in a nice suit where the lobby is. This is how I was first introduced to Donald Trump. Eight years later I was watching the news with my dad and we both laughed at our television screen. Summer had just begun. It was just starting to smell like barbeque, the air not quite toasty in California, but like home. Everything feels light and unreal in summer. My dad was drinking a beer and leaning back on the couch with an ease he often had. He was in a light blue polo shirt and was listening to Bruce Springsteen. Everything was okay. The air was in this neutral state- the kind of weather where you don’t really notice there is weather at all. We took nothing seriously. My dad is 6’2, and the kind of man that says everything with such confidence that you can’t help but believe everything he says. He’s also very factual and a realist; he’s usually right. So when he told me Donald Trump would not win the presidency, I believed him.
Just under a year later I sat on the same couch with my dad. His brow was more furrowed, not as easy. He leaned forward, toward the television screen as we flipped from channel to channel, listening to different reporters saying a variation of the same thing: Donald Trump is the republican candidate for the 2016 election. My dad put his beer on the coffee table and shook his head. I began to get nervous. He won’t really win, right? I decided to vocalize my fears. “It’s fine, right? I mean, he’s not going to win, right?” I said. In this moment, I was looking for any kind of comfort to ease my scattered mind. After a long pause he said, “No. He won’t win. There’s just no way. It’s not even a fair race.” He nodded his head, as if attempting to convince himself as well. He picked his beer back up, seemingly putting the election out of his mind.
My parents always kept up with politics. At the dinner table, politics always seemed to come up, even when no one wanted it to. I, on the other hand, was never that into politics until the 2016 election. There were social issues I was passionate about, but never in direct accordance with politics. Obama made it so that I never really had to be worried about politics. I trusted him. To me, Obama was like the weather on that June day- the kind of weather where you don’t really notice there is weather at all. With rising conversation about Trump and what would happen if he won the presidency, I found myself dreading Obama’s departure. I knew and understood Obama’s politics. All those social issues I’m passionate about- Obama was on the same page. In short, I was afraid.
In school, all people were talking about was the election. The election suddenly connected to all my classes and there wasn’t a quiet moment. A few weeks before the election, my teachers made an announcement. All the seniors would be working the polls the day of the election. We broke out in excitement, my friends and I making comments like, “I can’t believe we’re going to be working at the polls the election of the first woman president” and “We are actually living through history!” To be frank, at this point me and everyone I knew had put the possibility of Trump winning in the far back of our minds.
I woke up on November 9th at 6AM. We had to be at our polling stations at 7 and I was nervous. My polling station was at a church that was down the street from my house. I told myself I was nervous about the mechanics of the day, but in the back of my mind sat a grumpy, intolerant old man wearing a pungent red tie. When I walked into the local church groups of little old ladies were whispering and scurrying around, like squirrels. They were all wearing white. My supervisor was Francie. I asked Francie why. “Don’t you know about the suffragettes, dear? I never thought I’d live to see a woman president, but here I am.” She threw her hands up and laughed. I was instantly drawn to Francie and her large butterfly broach. She was half my height of 5’10, but was mighty in her size. Some other women joined in, and one woman even cried. I began to feel a growing sense of pride and excitement. I sat next to Francie all day. She told me about how her daughter was in college at Smith, just like her, and how proud she was. She asked me all kinds of questions about myself and school. We became quick friends. Throughout the day my dad and I were texting. He’d send me the occasional “Hillary won Washington- expected and good!” and “Trump got Ohio- bad news.” I felt the jittering in my stomach, but I trusted my dad and I trusted the squirrely old ladies. All of who told me he wouldn’t win. But something strange began to happen that day. Donald Trump starting winning more and more states. More and more key states, too. I texted my dad. He replied, it’s not over until it’s over.
I was in a group text with my 10 closest friends. We talked about celebrity gossip and funny things that happened to us. The past few weeks, though, the thread was almost completely filled with election news and discussion. My friends had been chiming in the group text throughout the day telling anecdotes from their respective polling stations, so I wasn’t surprised to see the group text appear on my phone at 6:13. He’s going to win. It began swirling around my head like a carousel- and I could hear the carnival music loud and clear. Freak show, this way! This is the moment that it dawned on me. He really was going to win. As a volunteer, I had many different jobs. Toward the end of the night, I was in the middle of counting absentee ballot forms, but I kept losing my place. I couldn’t focus. Tears started welling up in my eyes and I decided to go to the bathroom to compose myself. I never liked crying in public. The bathroom smelt of week-old cheese and desolation. I imagined no one ever cried in a church bathroom. My makeup was running down my face, big black splotches marking my cheeks. I tried to wipe it away but it seemed to make my face redder. This only made me cry harder. I wondered what kind of world we were living in, in which a seventeen-year-old girl would be crying in a church bathroom about a presidential election. I became afraid suddenly and all at once. What kind of people would this election validate? Have we begun to lose sight of what is right and what is wrong? I knew this was wrong.
When I exited the bathroom it became clear I hadn’t done a good job composing myself. The squirrely women looked at me pitifully, and they didn’t look so squirrely anymore. “Go home, sweetie. Go home,” Francie said. I noticed her cheeks were stained as well. Who was going to tell Francie to go home, sweetie? I cried the whole way home. What had the world become?
My dad was sitting on the couch when I got home. No beer. He had no words of optimism as I sat down beside him. What was he supposed to tell me, his oldest daughter going off to college? I longed for Home Alone 2, back when Donald Trump was just a cameo, not the main event.