Category Archives: Image/Self-esteem

The Weight Of It All

I think the complexity of it — it being the effect of men on women, their weight and influence on our very existence — scares a lot of women from engaging in the conversation. We view our existence and our lives as our own; our ownership, our choices, our paths. But what if it’s not as simple as that? It’s much simpler to view it in black and white and peg us (females/feminists) as women who care too much/give a damn/make excuses/whatever. I wish women could be enthralled by the idea of diminishing the sexism and roadblocks, instead of being scared by it (it’s easier not to care, though). With the advent of sexism in the workplace and in daily life, I can only hope more and more women can be awakened to the barriers being placed on women. The weight of it all is real. The influence and weight men place on women is heavy and felt.

I’ve been networking the last few months, in preparation to begin a transition from current job into a new field. I made the decision earlier this summer to stop networking with men. It seems a brute and harsh reaction, but networking with men only led to not being taken seriously, connections not being made, and instead an offer to buy me drinks at another date, in perhaps a more “casual setting” (read: take me on a date). This happened to me and several other female friends, who all decided to refrain from networking with the opposite gender. What does it take to be taken seriously? We are all successful and driven; we even made a point to not wear tight-fitting clothes to these networking meetings. Though at the end, we were nothing more than a pretty face.

Though, what about how we women relate to each other? So often the first connection women make is whether or not they have a (male) partner. Half of the conversation is then spent comparing and contrasting experiences with males, with the important characteristics and facts about ourselves being saved for later. Why are men such a defining part of female existence?

Men continue to influence female workplace dress. Prior to interviews with men, I would agonize over what to wear. Would one dress emphasize my hips too much, in a manner that may be “suggestive”? What about a dress that hugged my curves and flaunted my figure? Would a pencil skirt imply I wanted to be fucked? In the end, I always choose clothes that fit somewhat loosely and give only an inkling of a figure underneath. I feel safer being bland and nondescript than being assessed on an underlying sexuality.

How much should we care? How much can be done? Earlier this week, I told a supervisor whom I admire and we have often had many a great talk about feminism, sexism in the work place, etc., that a client made a comment about my “pretty face”. I felt at great unease from this comment and was instantly distraught at the thought of my work being thought of as different, as attached to my body rather than my intellect and follow through. She essentially replied that I shouldn’t fuss/sweat it too much, since worse comments could have been made. Though I realize this is true, I was crushed at the fact that this woman, who has shattered many a glass ceiling in her day (hate that phrase, but it’s true in her case), could dismay my discomfort.

As a mental side project, started tallying how many times per day I’m catcalled on my 1/2 mile walk to and fro the public transit station I frequent for work. It’s disheartening, but telling. I’ve also made notes of whether the drivers are in vehicles that are clearly marked as part of a company, etc. I’ve often wanted to call these businesses and complain, but again, have feared the roadblock of a dissent manager getting in my way to do so. Despite often starting my day with such an upsetting experience, I’d rather brush it off and get on with my day than acknowledge it and have it be disregarded by someone who didn’t experience the tragedy of that moment.

A person very close to me, who is highly successful in a field in which men reign, hates the idea of feminism and all that goes along with it. She doesn’t see the point. She kept her mouth shut, did the work, and laid low to rise up. Why can’t we (again, feminists) do the same? It’s easier to assume instead of understand, and the sadness of that is difficult to bear.

The issue at hand is complex. In fact, there are many issues at hand. It’s more complex than it’s often given credit for (outside of liberal media, that is). The difficulty lies in the notion of getting people to feel that the idea is not “not complex”. There is weight and matters to be sorted through here, divided into layers and split up amongst their fixings.

The point, at the end of it all, is to have the voice be heard and the weight felt. To know that we don’t have to be silent, but that we can kick and cry and scream to move ourselves ahead if we need to. That we don’t need to mold into what is expected of us nor refrain from speaking our truths. We need not be discouraged. Hope is brewing, simmering, and rising.

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Rhetoric is one of the most effective ways in which the disempowerment of women is perpetuated. In particular, phrases linked to femininity that are intended to be insulting are damaging. This video by the Always campaign captures this phenomenon perfectly.


Baby’s First Zine


Hi Real Life Athena readers!

My name is Rose, I’m currently a senior at Barnard College out in NYC, and I’m a new member of Real Life Athena! Today, I’m going to show you all the first (and so far, only) zine I have ever made.

Zines are awesome.  They’ve been around for as long as printing has been a thing and have been used historically by activists, feminists, anarchists, and all kinds of rad people to publish all kinds of rad ideas.  They’re all self-published and made without profit as the goal, and technically a zine shouldn’t have a circulation of more than a thousand copies.  Other than that, they’re all completely different! There are comic zines, political zines, fanzines, fiction zines… basically, anything you can think of, there’s a zine for. I’m currently using a zine as a source for a final paper for my class about anarchism and the Zapatista movement in Chiapas, Mexico.

A couple of weeks ago I went to the New York City Feminist Zine Festival, which was a public event held at my school.  It was so amazing! I walked around the all the booths, talked with people selling their zines and went to a zine reading session where seven zinesters read aloud from their work.  Some of my favorites were Suzy X (who does The Best Song Ever comics for Rookie!), Annie Mok and Jenna Brager.

I left the festival armed with the zines I’d bought and feeling pretty inspired.  Then, I went on to spend the rest of the night making my own zine! I’m a huge comics nerd, so I took a comic-y route.  I also used the one-page set up (which you can see below) that I’ve used before for my own mini-comics.

tumblr_l8srhjyjkj1qz6f4bo1_500(Illustration by Beth Hetland)

This semester I’m doing a club-thing called CU FemSex, taken from the original Female Sexuality club at Berkeley.  Basically, it’s really awesome and I had to come to our meeting the next day with a Body Project, hence, my zine became my Body Project. I don’t usually go the personal route when I’m doing my artwork.  Usually, I’ll do little comic story lines or I’ll draw interesting looking people that I conjure up using my imagination, so doing a zine that was all reflections about my body was a little uncomfortable and scary.  Ultimately, though, it was pretty awesome and got me thinking it might be something I continue to do.  After all, I’ve been pretty inspired by a lot of comic artists that do personal narratives (Vanessa Davis, Lynda Barry and Alison Bechdel to name a few) and maybe it’s time that I try my hand at it.

Anyways, here’s my zine! Click on the images to see them bigger and go into the slideshow mode.

*Just a tiny note: when I say that I became body positive and also say that I didn’t shave my legs, I don’t mean it to seem like not shaving is the only way to be body positive.  I just personally don’t really like shaving and like my body hair. There’s no wrong way to be body positive!

**Barnard shout out: my school has an amazing zine library (and our own zine librarian!).  Our zine library collects zines by women (cis- and trans*) and with an emphasis on zines by women of color, about a myriad of feminist/activist/identity topics.  It’s pretty awesome.  Go here to learn more:

“We Are Not Only a Mouth and Luring Siren We Are the Women”

Lately when things have been feeling a little gloomy or when my body and my mind has been feeling unambitious, I’ve been turning to reading poetry, listening to rap and hip-hop (with a conscious message) or watching spoken word for that extra motivation and wisdom.
It’s compelling because poetry and spoken word have typically been a world for me untouched and unexplored. I have always appreciated, been more than curious, and admired the powerful individuals inside it. With their booming voices and insightful word choices, whether their content be delivered through pencil or mouth, paint brush or spray can, rapping or singing, sign language or Spanish, I’ve always been curious.   When it comes to the message and the content they are spitting it’s okay to agree and disagree, for I’ve always loved to question and to be questioned. The beautiful thing about art is there isn’t a way to “do” poetry, to “do” spoken word, to “do” art. Yet despite my long lasting envy, there was a part of me buried under my insecurities that did not feel like this world of poetry was my territory, even if it was in my own bedroom.
But lately… I’m all up in that territory and I’m not gonna lie that shit feels great and I’ve never felt more inspired.
So a few weeks ago, when I was having a… we can call it one of my “unmotivated moments”  lying in bed, slowly eating ice cream, I stumbled upon this spoken word piece called, “Khaleesi,” by Tonya Ingram and Venessa Marco. (and sorry no Game of Thorn Fans this piece is not about that Khaleesi). But this piece, these two women really blew me away. Every day since I first saw it, I’ve watched it for motivation because as weird as it sounds, I’ve been spending a lot of time discovering my voice and how I want to be heard, even if it is scary.
My two favorite verses from this are:
“we are not only a mouth and luring siren
we are the women
who dare think of ourselves as more than a fuck
when we lend our thoughts to breath
we know often
we are speaking the words that will kill us
for we are then called
never a voice
just static sound”
I really also like the ending verse:
“This is our birthright
this is our inherit
we are women who capsize entire crowds
with the sayings of the wind
holy knuckles
of fight.”

So what or who has been motivating you lately? I would love to hear from you, even if you just post the link in the comments below!

pssst. other RLA’ers love spoken word and poetry too and hey, some of them even spit themselves (let me take you back in time and you can check out what they are writin’ or lovin’):







Just some Friday Fun Links that highlight spoken word pieces or poetry:






Also not only shout out times a million to  Tonya Ingram and  Venessa Marco.  but also Button Poetry (where I found this link). Button Poetry is a  Minnesota-based organization dedicated to improving the quality of performance poetry media. 

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5 Badass Spoken Word Poems on Body Image

Spoken word and slam poetry have a long legacy of serving as a sounding board for social issues in general, and women’s issues in particular. Below are five of my favorite spoken word poems dealing with issues of body image, self-love (or sometimes, hate), and sizeism. I am so impressed by the honesty and bravery of all these amazing female poets!

(Trigger warning for eating disorders/body image)

1. Rachel Wiley—10 Honest Thoughts on Being Loved By a Skinny Boy
I say, ‘I am fat.’
He says ‘No, you are beautiful.’
I wonder why I cannot be both.
He kisses me

2. Sierra Demulder—Ana
Dear Ana,
the truth is,
I would never speak to a child
the way I speak to myself

3. Sonya Renee—The Body is Not an Apology
Let it not be mountain when it is sand
Let it not be ocean when it is grass
Let it not be shaken, flattened, or raised in contrition
The body is not an apology
*Sonya Renee also founded an amazing body image movement titled after the poem

4. Lily Myers—Shrinking Women
“How can anyone have a relationship to food?” he asks, laughing, as I eat a black bean soup I chose for its lack of carbs
I want to say: we come from difference, Jonas,
You have been taught to grow out,
I have been taught to grow in

5. Megan Falley—Fat Girl
Fat girl unbutton her pants at dinner
Fat girl heard “Nothing tastes as good as being thin feels…”
Fat girl certain spicy crunchy tuna rolls taste better than being thin feels.




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Reflections on Violence Against Women in Guatemala

I have a lot more reading and writing to do on the subject of violence against women in Guatemala, but for starters, I can say: 1) that the state of fear women here face is historically rooted (thank you, colonialism, capitalism, and imperialism, for the destruction of a people and continued institutional corruption and violence) and 2) that the collective embracing of individual sexual liberation – of women, especially – can help dismantle the culture of fear (alongside policy change, of course, such as better sexual education and more transparent spending on public services and infrastructure).

A kiss on a cheek is a typical greeting here in Guatemala. A kiss on the edge of the mouth is not, yet I’ve gotten several of those. I’ve received lingering handshakes with a squeeze at the end, vivid stares, and pushy requests for my phone number. These experiences are not Guatemala-exclusive, though they have been happening to me more often and more audibly here. And while it is sometimes difficult to draw the line between cultural norms and abuse, there have been moments of obvious harassment. Whose business is it if I have a boyfriend? What do you care if I’m traveling alone? Why am I expected to respond to a ts ts ts from across the street? As a friend of mine and fellow Latin@ poet said, “words and actions can both be sexual violence.”

I typically move on from these uncomfortable experiences without much thought. However, a friend here described a recent and nasty verbal attack. She mentioned her resulting fears about where the line between words and actions is drawn. I reassessed my own emotions after certain experiences on the street, and decided that I, too, have been pushed to places of fear, tension, and distrust. Some of my experiences may be unique, being a foreigner, but I can confidently say that living in a constant state of fear is a very real oppression faced by all women here.

Many Guatemalans I’ve met have described Guatemala as having a culture of fear or a culture of silence. Anthropologists have used the phrases “death as a way of life” and “fear as a way of life” to describe Guatemalan existence. In her book Fear As a Way of Life: Mayan Widows in Rural Guatemala, Linda Green quotes Cynthia Enloe: “Wars don’t simply end / And wars don’t end simply.” While Guatemala’s Civil War ended over two decades ago, death and violence persist. According to the World Health Organization, 10 or more murders a day per 100,000 people is classified as an epidemic. Guatemala qualifies, along with 10 other Latin American countries. Violence has been normalized, as a legacy of ingrained intimidation, residue of the war, stubbornly persists.

What is the connection between a history of violence, current violence, and mindsets of fear? To be always afraid is to be truly oppressed. Seeing the fear that my dad manifests often evokes anger for me – I find his distrust unreasonable. But I must remind myself that he lived through a war. For him, distrust meant survival.

I hope that, through education, we can little by little dismantle the fear in which we live, replacing it with strong community ties and respect for women. Projects such as Colectiva Siluetas’ show AFUERA, about being a lesbian in Guatemala, and Rebecca Lane’s music (like this song about liberation and self love) are great first steps. Also check out this documentary about sex workers in Guatemala who started a soccer team and joined a league in order to call attention to the violence and abuse they faced. My friend also told me about a radio show on which Guatemalan women described their experiences masturbating. Revolutionary! Maybe we can even get a good burlesque class going here so women can go straight to positive pride in sexuality and self-confidence.


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Cheers to a New Year

DSCN1140_2An old poem to ring in the new year, and a new version in Spanish to keep us on our toes. Sending power and love to all my builders and fighters out there! Feliz año nuevo. ***Read out LOUD


Spit some poetry

Attack corporate crap

Shake yo booty

Diverge from all that’s wack

Tear off your bra

Go nakey if ya want

Liberate itty bitty titties and big ol’ butts

Show the world how you strut your stuff


Unicorns and tie dye

A boombox and high tops

Reclaim the streets

Beat up bad cops

Street art

Street dance

Parking lots and rooftops

That’s what I’m talking bout


You fly


You strong

I wish you a free mind

Social prison, be gone!


Escupa la poesía

Ataque mierda corporativa

Mueva tus nalgas

Espero que te salgas

de la ropa chambona

Libera pechos pequeños

y caderas campeonas

Mostrale al mundo

el poder que es tuyo


Unicornios y tinta

Una mano que pinta

Reclame las calles

Y nunca te caes

Calle baile, calle arte

En techos y parques

De eso hablo


Sos busa


Sos fuerte

No te frustras

La libertad esta pendiente

Comienza con tu mente

Written by Magdalena Kaluza

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The Lies They Tell Us

When I was 14, I read a lot of magazines. I had a subscription to YM, and when that ran out of business, to Teen Vogue and Seventeen. Each month when these magazines arrived at my doorstep, I would take them to my room and read them cover-to-cover, devouring every word. I would take every personality test, rip out pictures of all my favorite celebrities (mmm…Orlando Bloom), and comb through every tidbit of relationship and style advice.

By that time, I had already heard all about the media’s negative representation of women. I was familiar with words like self-esteem, anorexia, body image, Photoshop. Even at 14, I knew, on some level, that I was being spoon-fed a deep and intricate lie about what it means to be a successful and beautiful woman in this country.

Despite knowing what these magazines were really saying about women and girls—about me, really—I still bought in. I still asked my mother to renew my subscription for years. I still read each issue cover to cover every month. I can’t say why exactly, but something in those magazines always got to me. Maybe it was because there, in those endless pages of workout regimes and mascara application tips, I found a perfect road map for how to belong.

10 years later, I am happily well beyond my teen magazine days, however, the narratives and messages these magazines continue to perpetuate are alive and well. And I know the messages they send are seeping into the next generation of 14-year-old girls in much the same way they affected me. Recently, I skimmed through a few issues of Glamour and Cosmo while waiting in doctor’s offices and airports. Below is just a very small sampling of some of the content I came across. It’s always amazing to me to find such adverse messaging in media primarily produced by women, for women. These are the lies our culture tells us, and that we sometimes tell ourselves.


This was from an article about how to give a successful Maid of Honor speech. Because, you know, nothing endears you to your audience more than a healthy dose of insecurity and self-deprecation. Also, heaven forbid you let people see your ugly-cry face…


Don’t even get me started on this one. There is this eternal myth in our society that the more a woman pulls back, the more desirable she’ll seem to a potential boyfriend. In actuality, this framework perpetuates rape culture by sending the message that “no” really means “yes.” For more about this topic, read this great article in Feminspire.


And, here we have an exciting new announcement about disposable cups designed to protect us from date rape drugs. Along with the notorious anti-rape underwear that came out this year, companies continue to profit off of women’s legitimate fears of rape by creating products that teach women it is their responsibility to protect themselves against rape, and that if it does happen, it’s because these women didn’t take the adequate precautions. Women’s magazines continue to advertise products that promote victim-blaming by placing the burden of responsibility for preventing rape on potential victims rather than potential rapists.

Have you seen anything particularly oppressive in a magazine lately? I’d love to hear your thoughts–good and bad–about women’s magazines and their influence in American culture.

Rewriting our Story: Unspeakable Truths

To have a friend is to share truths,
but what if yours are unspeakable truths?

To have a friend means you cannot spread lies,
but what if your life is tangled in lies?

To have a friend means you cannot have secrets,
but what if you have horrible secrets?

To have a friend means you need to get close,
but what if you, your mind and heart are isolated?

To have a friend means a new concept of space,
but what if you have no room?

I lost my friends because of you.
Or was it because I was so consumed in our relationship?

I lost my worldview because of you.
Or was it because of all the lies I had to tell?

I lost my sense in self because of you,
or was it because I held both your and my secrets so tight.

I have many unspeakable truths and they begin long ago,

but the hardest truth is learning to commit to the most important person, myself.

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When Movements Isolate, Not Empower: Let Women Have Their Selfies

A couple days ago Jezebel published a piece, “Selfies Aren’t Empowering. They’re a Cry for Help.” I understand what the author, Erin Gloria Ryan, was trying to say but I could not disagree more with the delivery. The thesis of the article was that selfies reflect the patriarchal idea that women’s value is based on their looks, not intelligence or accomplishments. I agree that the pressure women face regarding our appearance is disgusting and manifests from patriarchy. Selfies are not the problem though and I am appalled by the shaming of women that is going on with this conversation about selfies.

A bit from Ryan’s article:

“In that respect, selfies aren’t expressions of pride, but rather calls for affirmation. In real life, walking up to a stranger, tilting your head downward at a 45-degree angle, duckfacing, pushing your tits together, and screaming “DO YOU THINK I’M PRETTY!” would be summon the authorities.”

Being judged by what we look like should be insignificant in a woman’s life, however it is not. We live in a world where women are put under tremendous pressure to look beautiful all the time, an unrealistic expectation and an expectation rooted in the idea that women are here to be appealing to men. If a woman putting a photo up makes them feel a bit better, let them have that small victory. When women face losses and hate everyday, it is the small victories that get us through.

Personally, I used to hide from taking pictures of myself alone and posting them on any social media platform. I did that because of insecurities, not the other way around. Several months ago I actually pushed myself to post a photo of just my face on Instagram. I was proud of myself. I was comfortable enough in my own skin to say, “hey here’s what I look like and I like it!” That was empowering for me as an individual. My own individual empowerment can lead to the building of a more just society. It is difficult to create a world where marginalized individuals are empowered when we ourselves do not feel empowered enough. If other feminists shame women for feeling empowered in a way that is seemingly small, that only isolates people from this movement.

Every time we walk out of the house we face shame as women. The moment I wake up I do not feel pretty enough, smart enough, articulate enough, you name it enough to be successful in this world. I do not need now to be shamed for posting a picture of myself on the Internet.

My ideal of a feminist society is a place where all humans are empowered. When we type away at our computers shaming women for something that empowers them even for a few moments we are moving toward a movement of isolation. This is especially true for groups of women who face immense amounts of unique shame based in racism, classism, ableism, homophobia and other forms of oppression. If a woman just worked a 10-hour shift, making minimum wage and wants to post a photo of herself on Instagram, maybe that is her personal form of self-care and a pretty darn healthy one at that.

I found this article so infuriating because it targeted women in an extremely condescending and shaming matter. I do not want a feminist movement that shames and manipulates women into feeling their actions are anti-feminist. We have enough shame in our day to day.

I want a movement of empowerment and radical acceptance. We need a movement that acknowledges that most aspects of our lives are rooted in oppressive power dynamics and sometimes we must find the moments of happiness and security within that harsh reality of a world.

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