True Beauty

“Now we make you ugly, my mother said. She whistled. Her mouth was so close she sprayed my neck with her whistle-spit. I could smell beer. In the mirror I watched her move the piece of charcoal across my face. It’s a nasty life, she whispered.”

~ from Prayers for the Stolen by Jennifer Clement

What is the definition of true beauty? I’ve often written about beauty; the beauty found in nature, the beauty of motherhood, and the beauty of simplicity populate this blog on a regular basis. I find my soul searching for beauty in the everyday moments of life, my heart clinging to those images that I fear will be simply flashes in an overly full life. Beauty, in my world, is found in the landscapes that surround me, the spirit of my children, and the thought that right now, this moment, is everything it needs to be.

But after reading Prayers for the Stolen, the opening quote above has lingered in my mind. What does true, human beauty look like, and how does it influence how we see the world, and how we interpret the moments of our lives?

Mary Wollstonecraft believed that “Taught from their infancy that beauty is woman’s scepter, the mind shapes itself to the body, and roaming round its gilt cage, only seeks to adorn its prison.” Does physical beauty hinder a woman’s ability to be seen as an entity onto herself, trapping her in some sort of self-imposed prison? Our media would certainly have us believe the contrary; daily we are barraged by messages of power and strength born through a beautiful exterior, with intelligence and inner fortitude taking second place to air brushed images of ‘real women’ on our social media feeds.

A few years ago I wrote about Iran’s banning of the Barbie doll, and in some ways, I agreed with their attempts to squelch the stereotypical image of westernized beauty – in my own home, I had experienced a similar ‘banning’ of Barbie for my own daughter. Although not a fan of censorship in any form, their alternative to Barbie did seem more physically realistic. As a mother, I’ve attempted to create a home where strong, healthy bodies are honored and valued over what type of clothing or make up we adorn those bodies with. I’ve hoped that these words for my own daughter echo those of Eckhart Tolle when he reminds us that ‘If you get the inside right, the outside will fall into place.” I want my daughter to harness the power of her inner beauty,blooming into a woman who is seen first as a beautiful human from the inside out.

I hold onto the hope that together, we can teach our girls that physical beauty is not the end goal of womanhood, and also that physical beauty doesn’t have to hinder us or force us into fallacious roles adopted out of some perceived societal expectations. I hope that our daughters will learn that true beauty burns from within, that beauty is no indicator of intelligence, and to truly grow into woman hood, as Mary Wollstonecraft reminds us, “[I]f we revert to history, we shall find that the women who have distinguished themselves have neither been the most beautiful nor the most gentle of their sex.” Beauty, in my world, has no bearing on success, happiness or an ability to chase our dreams. True beauty, in my world, comes from the inside out or the outside in. It really doesn’t matter how we get there, as long as we eventually find it.

This post was inspired by the novel Prayers for the Stolen by Jennifer Clement.  Ladydi was grew up in rural Mexico, where being a girl is a dangerous thing.She and other girls were “made ugly” to keep protect them from drug traffickers and criminal groups. Join From Left to Write on February 18 we discuss Prayers for the Stolen. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.

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Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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Sorry Paula Deen, But Words CAN Really Hurt You

Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.

– Rudyard Kipling

sticks and stones
sticks and stones and words (Photo credit: Lisa monster)

So much of my life is consumed by language. As a parent, I read all the What To Expect  books before and during my children’s younger years. I remember reading that to develop language, parents should speak everything out loud so the child would learn to acquire the correct vocabulary. I happily spent my days with baby Lily repeating “book”, “dog”, “peaches”, “Daddy”, “tree”, “bird” with endless enthusiasm. I wondered it strangers thought I was losing my mind. I never was the outspoken type myself.

Not surprisingly, it worked. She acquired lots of language, and with the help of ‘Baby Signs‘ became quite adept at expressing her feelings at a very young age. I loved it. I knew when she was happy, confused, and frustrated, and whenever she flashed that huge, drooly grin I knew the mind-numbing repetition was all worth it. Of course, until the day she oh-so-appropriately exclaimed “God dammit” at two years old. I had some explaining to do, but it gave me a strong reminder of the power of language.

My son would talk to anyone. I pitied the poor workers that came to remodel our house when he was two years old. He followed around the plumbers, the electricians, and anyone who would pay the smallest amount of attention to his burgeoning vocabulary. His precociousness usually garnered a smile from them as they went about their work, often engaging him in dialogue. He beamed and kept right on talking.

As a middle school English teacher, I start each year with an intense study of connotation and denotation of language. We read Lois Lowry’s novel, The Giver, and discuss precision of language in great detail. I know my students have heard the ‘sticks and stones’ nursery rhyme, but I want to break down that notion. I disagree. Words can really hurt you. Badly.

The real origin of that nursery rhyme can be traced back to the late 1800s, when it was presented in a publication of the African Methodist Episcopal Church as

Sticks and stones will break my bones
But words will never harm me.”

As any socially aware person knows, incidents of bullying and racism still exist in our world, and with the advent of technology and the ability to speed up communication, words spread faster than ever. We need to teach our children that words WILL harm them, and that just ignoring them isn’t enough. We need to choose our language carefully, always thinking about what the connotation is and the historical implications that may forever be associated with them.

Sorry, Paula Deen, but you’re learning this lesson the hard way.

FC 250 Grand Marshal, Paula Deen
FC 250 Grand Marshal, Paula Deen (Photo credit: Bristol Motor Speedway & Dragway)

Celebrities have the unfortunate responsibility of being scrutinized for their every action. As much as technology and social media helps actors, musicians, writers, artists, and even chefs to spread their message and boost their sales, the flip side is the enormous social responsibility that goes along with it. Celebrities can choose to use their words to promote positive social change, like Macklemore does, or they can carelessly toss about hurtful and discriminatory language that does nothing but show their ignorance and perpetuate stereotypes. Sorry, Paula Deen. Apparently no amount of butter, sugar and friendly ‘y’alls’ can grease your way out of this one.

Some may say that the media  is over-reacting. That Paula Deen really isn’t a racist, a sexist, or anything else that she’s accused of. They may say that everyone makes mistakes and she should be forgiven. They may even say that anyone over the age of 60 should not be chastised for using the ‘n’ world, especially if they grew up in the South.

I don’t buy it.

There are no do-overs here. Once a word has escaped our mouths, it cannot be retrieved. It hangs there, in space, like a cloud that could either dissipate or drop hail. But it’s there for all to see. Words do hurt. Names do hurt. Stereotypes are perpetuated through ignorant use of language and irresponsible adults who think that if they get ‘caught’, they can just deny their culpability and say they really didn’t mean it.

How does that feel to the gay person who is called a ‘f’?

A black person who is called a ‘n’?

A woman who is called a ‘b”?

A Latino who is called a ‘s’?

A child who is called anything they deem hurtful, deflating, or just plain mean?

So thank you, Food Network, and all the other corporate sponsors who are taking this opportunity to stand up for language. You did the right thing. Don’t back down to those who say she really didn’t mean it. Because even if she didn’t, she said it. She had a choice with her language, and she threw down words that hurt. And she got caught. There’s a lot of kids out there who are watching her, and they need to know the power of language.

I hope we can all learn from this.

Sticks and stones may break your bones,

and words CAN really hurt you.

Sticks and Stones
Sticks and Stones (Photo credit: alsokaizen)

 

 

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Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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Macklemore: Why Moms Should Know About Him

English: Macklemore & Ryan Lewis performing at...
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis performing at Sasquatch 2011 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Macklemore. Have you heard of him?

If you’ve got a teenager in the house, chances are you have. Or if you’ve listened to the radio, surfed the internet, or watched Saturday Night Live.

And if you’re a mom, you should know about Macklemore and why teenagers love him.

Just in case you stilll have no idea who I’m talking about, here is Macklemore’s recent appearance on SNL:

You really should watch it.

Macklemore is a 29-year-old rapper from Seattle, Washington, who just happens to have a hit song, “Thrift Shop”,  topping the Billboard charts-and has sold over 3.9 million copies of it to date. He and his musical partner, Ryan Lewis, have achieved unlikely success in today’s music scene, starting with their rise to fame as artists not signed to a major label. But that’s not the reason moms should know about him.

And it’s not that your teenagers are suddenly turning to rap music instead of Taylor Swift (but I love her, too).

American country musician Taylor Swift perform...
American country musician Taylor Swift performing live. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You should know about Macklemore because he’s different.

Yes, he’s a rapper. I’ll admit that I’m not a big rap fan, mainly because I object to much of the lyrical content and suggestive ideas many rappers base their music around.  But Macklemore, he’s not like them.

I first heard him through the walls of my 16-year-old daughter’s bedroom. Surprised to hear thumping bass and rhythm over melodic pop songs, I questioned her.  She tried to tell me he’s different, but I just walked away, puzzled.

Finally, after weeks of persuasion, we listened to his newest album start to finish on a long car trip.  I have to admit-I was impressed.

Macklemore has been called a ‘conscious rapper’-a label he doesn’t entirely love: “”Am I more or less conscious than everybody else? I’m a full spectrum of a human being. There’s songs that are deep and personal and might bring up some social issues, but that’s not the full side of me. I think it’s just a box, that’s just corny. It’s very outdated. It’s very underground and backpacker-ish and that’s not the music I make,” he stated.

But when I hear songs like “Thrift Shop”, and especially “Same Love”, I see how it fits; Macklemore writes about real life, real problems, and real people. He breaks the negative stereotypes of rap, and had the courage to break through trends and challenge his listeners to do the same. He writes about issues that I see teens struggle with every day, like wearing the ‘right’ clothes in “Thrift Shop”, and dealing with sexuality and discrimination, as in his hit “Same Love”:

We press play/Don’t press pause/Progress, march on!/With a veil over our eyes

We turn our back on the cause/’Till the day/That my uncles can be united by law

Kids are walkin’ around the hallway/Plagued by pain in their heart

A world so hateful/Some would rather die/Than be who they are

This is why moms need to know about Macklemore. At least read his lyrics.  Hear the issues he writes about, and ask your kids what they think. When I asked teens why they liked Macklemore, they responded with things like “he’s just so good” and “a lot of his music is spoken word, which I like. It’s not all hardcore rap-he has a lot of variety.”

Teens liking spoken word? Wow-that means they’re actually listening to what the artist is saying…and in my opinion, that’s a very good thing. Well, except for the foul language, but if they can look past that and focus on his messages, Macklemore is ok in my house. Teenagers love him because he writes what they’re living-bullies and styles and fitting in and love…and moms, if you want to understand your teenagers a little bit better, you might just take a listen to “Wings”:

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Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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Be Yourself

Just imagine how many problems we could solve it we all took Emerson’s advice.  I certainly see this every day in my classroom, where 13 and 14-year-olds posture and prepare themselves with the ‘right’ answer, or the appropriate reaction.  I see this with adults, when they try to say the ‘right’ thing, afraid to speak their minds for fear of retribution. 

We see it in the media, when celebrities do what it takes to get noticed, land the next big role or ink an endorsement contract.  Have you noticed the difference between men and women who try to be themselves?  It seems fine, as long as we fit into the stereotypical gender roles, but when we step out of them….labelling, here we come. 

Bullies see this, too – and they pounce on those trying to find themselves, calling out what they see as weakness when if you really think about it, should be seen as strengths.  They prey on the ‘unique’ kids who show up their own fears about letting their true selves shine brightly. 

Voters notice who is trying to be their true selves, and we wonder if any of the sensationalism that swirls around politicians has any grain of truth at all.  We see the bickering, name calling, and sometimes shallow decision making of our country and wonder if there is anyone we can really believe.

So if there is one thing we can do in our day, with our students, our children, or our friends and colleagues, I would wish that we look at each other for who we really are, not who we believe the world thinks we should be. 

Just imagine what that kind of day would feel like. 

Do you struggle to be yourself?  Who does the world think you should be?

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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Friday Photo: Independence Day

 

It took 46 years to sense it…
first just a tickle
then a burst out here and there
like a drowning woman rising to the top
churning and bubbling to the surface

It took 46 years to feel it…
saying goodbye to identities no longer useful
relationships not meeting needs
or stereotypes obliged to slide to the side
and slither into obscurity

It took 46 years to create it…
birthing them from me and
me from myself
welcoming a new phase of existence
all the time surrendering expired habits

It took 46 years to explode it…
pulsing out my heart through my fingertips
rushing out my mouth to the world
exuding out my very being into the
freedom to be
me.

Independence.

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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