Plastic Surgery Has Been In High Demand During COVID-19

I have largely avoided mirrors for the better part of the last three years. After my husband died, my self-esteem took a vicious hit—something about no longer being able to see myself the way he saw me, and not recognizing the grief-ravaged face that stared back at me. I’ve slowly been working on rebuilding that self-esteem, but it’s a process. For example, I would (reluctantly) get into the picture with my kids and not pick apart the image too much, but I absolutely would not take a selfie or use FaceTime.

And then the pandemic hit. The world shut down and everything, from my children’s school to the Pilates studio where I teach, went virtual. Suddenly, I found myself on FaceTime and Zoom all the time. I was staring at my face more often than I ever wanted to. I could see the lines and dark circles that hadn’t been there before at the most unflattering angles I could think of.

It was hard not to criticize what I saw. And by hard, I mean nearly impossible. And then I found the Zoom “touch up my appearance” feature. It softened a few lines and blurred a few imperfections, and suddenly, thanks to a digital touch-up, what I was seeing wasn’t so bad.

As it turns out, this time, my widowhood was not to blame for the hypercritical way I looked at my fine lines and dark circles. This time, in feeling a little less than when I saw my face staring back at me on Zoom, I wasn’t alone. Plastic surgeons across the country, and in many parts of the world are seeing a rise in the number of patients seeking cosmetic procedures. Botox, fillers, and other cosmetic surgeries are on the rise during the pandemic, and more people are considering procedures.

According to a survey conducted by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons on attitudes towards plastic surgery in the wake of COVID-19, 49% of respondents who had never before had any plastic surgery say they are open to having cosmetic or reconstructive procedures completed in the future.

If the fact that plastic surgeons are booking appointments out a month in advance and more people are considering cosmetic procedures than ever before is surprising to you, you aren’t alone. Dr. Suneel Chilukuri, a board-certified dermatologist and dermatologic surgeon in Houston, told InStyle magazine that his team had been discussing the potential of downsizing, expecting a significant lull as the pandemic’s financial and mental toll took hold. Instead, he’s rushing to expand his staff.

The rise could be explained simply. Many patients see the stay-at-home orders and the requirement to wear a mask in public as a way to stealthily heal from any procedures. Events are canceled, and folks are staying home. When they do go out, any procedure related bruising or swelling can be covered by a mask. But that wouldn’t really explain why surgeons around the world are seeing a surge of first time patients.

One theory offered up by Dr. Sanam Hafeez, a neuropsychologist and faculty member at Columbia University, to explain the rise in interest in cosmetic procedures is that on Zoom, “[y]ou see yourself the way others do, but you are also adopting an alienating perspective on yourself. When we do this, we start imagining all the judgments people could make on us, and our insecurities can manifest in what we say to ourselves.”

Other people’s judgments shouldn’t matter. The judgments we imagine other people are making should matter even less. We all know that to be true. And yet, it’s sometimes hard not to let the whispers slide in. Sometimes those whispers slide in so insidiously, weaved in to messages we subconsciously receive about how terrible aging is, that we don’t realize they’re there until they’ve taken hold.

Dr. Heather Furnas, a plastic surgeon at Plastic Surgery Associates in Santa Rosa, California, and an adjunct clinical professor of plastic surgery at Stanford University, offered up another theory. She says, “Some of [the patients] will say they see themselves on Zoom and they just want to feel better. In this crazy time, I think people are looking for something to make them feel better about themselves.”

This is a theory that makes sense to me. In my early widowhood, it was easier to focus on my dark circles than the fact that I was suddenly facing a lifetime alone. I could buy a few dozen creams for dark circles, but there was no product anywhere that would make my loneliness fade. Maybe for many folks it’s easier to focus on fine lines than the terrifying state of the world outside that little Zoom box.

There’s an inherent element of privilege in this conversation, of course. Cosmetic procedures can be expensive. Millions of people lost their jobs due to the pandemic and are struggling to afford food and rent. These procedures also take time, including time to heal. And not everyone has the ability to do all their work from home, on Zoom, where they could stare at themselves in a little box and pick apart the face on the little box in the corner.

We’re all navigating a life we never pictured we’d be navigating. Most of us—maybe all of us—are feeling completely beaten down by this pandemic, and we’re looking for a way to feel less beaten down. For some it might be training for a marathon or binge watching every episode of Friends. For some, that might mean turning to cosmetic procedures.

The truth I learned during the earliest days of my widowhood and again now, is that whatever you turn to, whatever choice you make to feel a little less beaten down during an impossible time, is your choice. But make your choice for you, for your confidence and your happiness, and not for those insidious whispers. Those whispers don’t know the strength and beauty in your every breath like you do.

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Don’t ‘Dirty Delete’—It’s Rude AF And You Need To Own Your Shit

The internet can be a dark and soul-sucking web of despair, and Facebook groups and comment sections hold the worst of humanity. Everyone is a keyboard warrior, and folks run headfirst into arguments with what they think are the most important opinions, smartest thoughts, and hottest takes in the room. But as sure as someone has something to say, someone will disagree and happily vocalize their reasons why. Just because someone feels bold enough to say something, doesn’t mean they’re always confident enough to let their comments stand. Sometimes when an original poster (OP) doesn’t like the backlash they’re getting, they delete their post, thus deleting all comments in response to the OP. This is called “dirty deleting,” and it’s rude AF.

I’m in several groups where dirty deleting is cause for removal from the group because it shows a low level of emotional intelligence and polices the tone of those who have something to say in response. It lacks culpability and shows cowardice.

Not dirty deleting should be the first rule everyone agrees to when walking into the ring of Facebook groups. If you are going to say something, either stand by it or openly admit you are wrong or willing to change. Hitting the delete button means denying all accountability and—at minimum—erasing someone else’s point of view just because you felt threatened by it or didn’t like it.

I acknowledge that some people are flaming assholes and sometimes delete and block is your best bet when they show up with their sack of isms and ignorance. I am not upset when someone needs to protect their safety or mental health; I am upset when someone feels like they need to protect their image or their pride—and that is usually the root motivation for dirty deleting.

Let’s circle back to the dark hole of despair. Not everything is true all of the time, so this means the internet can also be a great place to learn things. Sometimes both asked-for and unsolicited responses to comments left in Facebook groups facilitate great discussions, even if uncomfortable at times. There is a difference between being attacked and being educated and held to a higher standard. This is where my biggest gripe lies with dirty deleting.

When an OP doesn’t like the tone of a discussion or the comments people are leaving, they claim victim status and delete long threads, conversations that amount to hours of effort and emotional labor, simply because they didn’t like being challenged. The OP may feel embarrassed or bullied. Dirty deleting is a gross sign of insecurity and a sign of unwillingness to learn or be uncomfortable.

In one of the local groups I am in, a parent I know expressed frustration that the elementary school kids were being read I Am Jazz, a picture book written for preschool kids and older that tells the childhood story of transgender woman and activist Jazz Jennings. The parent felt that kind of discussion should happen at home and should be up to the parents to decide if and when to talk about that stuff. Well, that stuff is my stuff, and the stuff of my transgender daughter who was in class with hers.

I made several points that my child’s safety, respect, and acceptance shouldn’t be compromised because she or other parents were uncomfortable. I posted several articles about early conversations with kids about LGBTQIA+ topics and added age appropriate book lists. Other parents added comments too. None of the language was disrespectful or explosive. I was optimistic that I had made good points for her and other parents to digest. Then she DMed me and told me she deleted the post because she didn’t want to look like she wasn’t accepting. She privately apologized but was worried what others would think of her. I was pissed, exhausted, and felt defeated by her inability to see the value in that community conversation.

You need to own your shit, people. If you haven’t heard it before, let me tell you some really important things.

It’s okay to be wrong.

It’s okay for someone to disagree with you.

It’s okay to check your biases.

It’s okay to admit you have some learning to do.

It’s okay to change your mind.

It’s okay to make mistakes.

It’s okay to dig your heels in and claim righteousness.

But it is not okay to pretend like none of it existed by deleting other people’s words—their time and emotional labor—because they made you feel things you didn’t like.

The most heated debates seem to happen when an OP talks over, or doesn’t listen to, marginalized voices or their allies. Agreeing to disagree is not an option when Black folks are explaining the ways they continue to experience systemic racism and violence. Agreeing to disagree about the existence of transgender children is a no-no. Hiding behind religion to love the queer sinner but not the queer sin is bad. Then there are science deniers, anti-vaxxers, and pro-lifers who seem to be oxymorons of themselves. Opposing views with rational arguments fill a thread with valuable counter points, links to articles, lived experiences, and fact checks, but when the OP has had enough, it’s all gone. They delete the post because they claim it has become too toxic, when in reality the most toxic thing was their inability to stay in an adult conversation.

This has happened too many times to me, and it’s maddening. I am often level-headed even in my disagreements with folks. I try to see their side of a topic while still hoping I can help them see where I am coming from. I often take the time to validate my points through studies or research-based articles. I understand I may come from a place of being biased, but I do my best to argue within common ground.

When other folks will chime in, really wonderful perspectives can be shared. I also know more people are reading than responding, and I hope the work I and others are doing—specifically to move equity and humanity forward—is educating people on the topic at hand. But in my work as a LGBTQIA+ educator, I know how often people shy away from being wrong or thinking they hurt someone.

When someone starts to see how their original comment could have been worded differently or that they didn’t actually believe what they said because they didn’t understand the topic well enough to believe anything, they often want to make their shame or guilt go away. So they dirty delete. They undo all of the emotional labor and time taken to get to that point instead of rewarding it with proof that people can either change or stay mad in their convictions.

Strengthen that backbone, folks. You said what you said.

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Four Reasons To Stop Freaking Out About Being Forty-Something

Turning forty is a big deal, right? Well, I dreaded it. Aging makes you think about your own mortality, and thinking about your own mortality is uncomfortable. Every August, I’m adamant in my desire to let my birthday pass unnoticed. No cake, gifts, or gatherings, please. (Memes and jokes about aging are 100% encouraged.) Despite my pleas to let my birthday go gentle into that good night, someone always organizes a birthday gathering, and a cake topped with an absurd number of candles appears before my fast-wrinkling face.

For my fortieth, I decided to high key carpe diem the hell out of my day. Some of my people and I went to Las Vegas to celebrate. My margarita glass was never empty. I floated in a private pool, drank like a fish, and danced well past 2:00 a.m. For a few glorious days, I lived like a 21-year-old again.

When I got home, the exhaustion hit. No, it wasn’t just exhaustion; it was relief. It’s fun to feel twenty-one…for a few days. But I didn’t want to be twenty-one again. Or thirty. Or even thirty-five. Why?

Because being forty is the shiznit. Let me tell you why…

1. You accept the weird, messy parts of parenting and know you’re making the best decisions for YOUR children.

As a new mom, I thought every other mother on the planet judged me for my parenting choices. I imagined condescending eyeballs firing laser beams of disdain at me when I let my kid climb up the slide at the playground. At the grocery store, I swore I caught glares for not using a shopping cart cover for my toddler. (He might or might not have licked the cart handle.) Hated breastfeeding? Judged. Fed them applesauce with added sugar instead of making homemade from apples plucked from trees at the apple farm? I was 100% positive Judgey-McJudger had something to say about that.

Sure, some of them judged me. These days I witness it online more than I do IRL. It’s easy to be a keyboard warrior. Real life is nothing like Facebook or Twitter. You witness the struggles of other mothers. Even if the struggles look different from your own, you can look a fellow mother in the eye and say, “I get it.” Because you do.

As my children and I aged together, I understood that no one actually gave AF about my parenting choices—not in the beginning, not now, not ever. For me, the challenge of raising tweens and teens dwarfs the concerns of my early parenting years, and I’m too busy and overcommitted to worry about what anyone else is doing anyway.

No. One. Cares. It took me more than a decade to realize this simple truth. Once you stop worrying about what other people think of you and your parenting choices, you are a free bird. You are already the mother you always wanted to be.

This is forty-something.

2. You’ve found your people.

Picture a crowded New York City street. You stand stock-still in the middle of the sidewalk, staring at the throng of faces rushing past you. Someone bumps your shoulder and knocks you off-balance. You nearly faceplant on the pavement, but you catch yourself. Rather than offer an apology, the transgressor grumbles, “Move your ass.” It hits you. No one cares if you bust your face on the pavement. No one knows you exist at all.

For me, that picture of a crowded New York City street depicts what it was like being a new mother. My husband and I had moved to a new state four months before I delivered our first child. My family lived out of town. I hadn’t made any friends. Heck, I hadn’t even met the neighbors. The isolation made me feel lonelier than I’d ever felt before. I found solace in online mom groups, which helped me when I needed a community to turn to with my parenting anxieties, but I yearned for local support and camaraderie.

When I took my son out for walks, I noticed duos and trios of other mothers together. Everywhere I went—the park, the pool, the toddler playground, etc.—I saw happy coteries of mothers. Honestly, I’m an introvert and find it difficult to strike up conversations with strangers. Still, it was high school all over again, and I sat at a table on the outskirts of the action, awkward and alone.

Guess what? Your village doesn’t flock to you. It isn’t built in a day. You develop it over many years. Real friendship requires investment. You have to make authentic connections with other people. And let’s be real for a sec—investing tons of time in new friendships is a stretch during those years of birthing, breastfeeding, naps, and potty training. Unless you’re fortunate enough to live near friends you made years ago, or you’re an extrovert to the nth degree, it’ll be some time before you can actively work to connect with new people.

As the kids enter elementary school and develop their own hobbies and interests, you meet new people every day. There are the volleyball moms. The marching band moms. The PTA moms. STEM moms. There are millions of moms out there, and some of them will like you for you (even if you’re awkward like me).

By the time you are forty-something, you’ve collected your people. You’ve made friends for keeps. You have a couple ride or dies, and you hold on to them for dear life. Yes, it’s still possible to make the best friend you’ve ever had in your 40s. Making friends isn’t something you stop doing once you hit a certain age.

This is forty-something.

3. You’ve learned to say “no.”

A couple years ago, some friends and I sat around and discussed our different interpretations of the word sure. Most of them used it literally, meaning “certainly.” One said she didn’t care for the word because she couldn’t decipher the user’s tone, particularly via text. For example, you ask someone to carpool to soccer practice. They say, “Sure.” Does that mean they’re happy to carpool? Or have you backed them into a corner where they feel obligated to say yes simply because you asked?

Until someone purposefully mentioned this in conversation, I hadn’t thought much about how I used the word. The hard truth was I only used it when I was agreeing to do something I didn’t want to do. And that’s passive-aggressive and gross.

Can you give Lily a ride to and from the meeting you’re holding AT YOUR HOUSE?
Actual response: Sure.
What I really mean: Are you kidding me? I’m hosting a meeting of multiple children at my house, and then I’m getting in my car to drive your child home once I’m done managing said meeting?

Want to carpool to band practice?
Actual response: Sure.
What I really mean: This again? We tried this last year, and I ended up doing 80% of the driving.

See what I mean—passive-aggressive and gross. I needed to grow up! Sure, I’m fine being inconvenienced sometimes (see what I did there). But if something sounds outrageous or doesn’t make sense for my schedule, it’s a hard pass. As a parent, I volunteer for X amount of opportunities and uphold my commitments. My husband and I show up for every concert, game, exhibition, etc. I refuse to do things that don’t make sense for my family and me just out of a false sense of obligation.

This is forty-something.

4. You know who you are.

For the love of everything that’s holy, the 20s make for a difficult decade. Self-doubt and insecurity plague the best of us, and our decision-making skills leave a lot to be desired. What do you want to do with the rest of your life? Where will you live? Who are you really? Technically, your brain doesn’t even start “adulting” until your frontal lobe is fully developed, which happens around the age of twenty-five.

Then come the 30s. Careers, families, and commitments kick into high gear. Maybe you’re settling into a career, or you’re training/switching to a new one. Maybe you’re done having kids. Or perhaps you’re starting your parenting journey. Possibly you’re a newlywed adjusting to married life. Whatever your situation, you’re still building your life.

I delivered my fourth and final child the year I turned 31. My husband and I brought four lives into this world in five short years. During my 30s, the years of sleep deprivation left me feeling foggy-headed and withdrawn. My husband and I existed in pure survival mode, treading water 24/7. We had no time to focus on anything but diapers, pacifiers, bottles, and sleep. It certainly wasn’t a period of self-discovery, to say the least.

Something magical happened when I entered my 40s. I slept again (until I didn’t because perimenopausal sleep-maintenance insomnia hit me like a fist to the throat). All of a sudden, I had time to take stock of my life.

I won’t apologize for my introversion anymore because it’s fundamental to my well-being. Yes, I can be moody, sarcastic, and inflexible; but I’m loyal, self-disciplined, and forgiving, too. I deflect emotional pain with humor and have a low tolerance for bullshit, and I can prattle on all day long about time travel, horror film, and the Oxford comma debate.

My point? As a forty-something, you’re comfortable in your own skin. Mostly. At least, I know I am.

Your identity evolves over the course of your lifetime, but you have a pretty good grip on what makes you you by the time you enter your fifth decade. You’ve experienced enough hardship. You’ve identified your core personal values and what makes you happy. You’ve loved and been loved. You’ve experienced heartache, grief, gratitude, and joy.

This is forty-something.

So stop freaking out about being in your 40s. Accept the mother you already are. You’ve found your people, and you’ve learned to say no. Most importantly, you know who you are, warts and all. It’s a rich, full decade of life. Don’t spend one minute of it wishing you were twenty-one again. This is soooo much better.

I made a promise to myself this year: Instead of evading offers to celebrate my birthday, I’m accepting them. There won’t be any private pools or endless margaritas, but there will be family, friends, and plenty of gratitude.

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Pot Is Getting Me Through This Pandemic

If we met, you probably wouldn’t guess that I smoke pot.

I don’t look like a stoner. I look like a cute suburban mom with a minivan, two kids, a dog, and a picket fence. My husband and I have a moderately-sized home with a pool and a playground. We can both work from home. We have not left the house for more than essentials since March 13th. I circled it on the calendar one day, probably while I was stoned. I use it to count things: when we finally ordered takeout, I could say, “I has been this many days since we last had that.” Or when I look at the kids, I think, “They have not seen other children in this many months now.”

My husband and I are not only full-time workers, we’re full-time teachers, full-time entertainers, full-time everythings. So I smoke pot. I couldn’t cope otherwise. I am not made to play Big Brother, sans cameras, with my nuclear family for months on end. But I can smoke. And pot is getting me through this pandemic.

This Ain’t Your College Ditchweed

The pot I smoke comes from various strains which have been grown to create different effects. For example, I try to find strains high in CBD, which helps with anxiety. Pot, at this point, has passed “recreational drug” and moved into pharmaceutical compounding; what I get now in no way resembles the stuff I smoked back in college.

We usually have several strains around. Most of what we keep is high in anti-anxiety properties: the marijuana equivalent of a Xanax. As I’ve told my psychiatrist, who swears she’s writing us all scripts for it as soon as it becomes legal, one long-acting anti-anxiety med can take thirty minutes to stop a panic attack. A short-acting one can take fifteen minutes. Pot can stop a panic attack in no more than five.

But we also keep some that gives you a more cerebral high—in which you want to talk about life, the universe, and everything—and plenty that provide a general, relaxed mellow. This keeps me from breaking into tears when the house is a wreck, the dishes need done, the kids are screaming, and they used glitter-glue on the dog.

Pot Makes Me a Peaceful Parent

Pot makes me a better parent. Hands-down, no questions asked, I am a kinder, gentler parent when I’m high. Instead of yelling, which can be so easy when you’re trapped in a small house, I can get down on my kids’ level. I can say, patiently: “Hey. It looks like something’s bothering you. Can we talk about it?” Or, I can say, “It looks like you hit your brother. Can you tell me what happened? Now can you tell me how it made you feel? What can we do to fix this?”

On pot, I am the ultimate peaceful parent. Conflict resolution is my jam.

I don’t get angry about stupid things. Because my anxiety’s zapped, my fuse burns much more slowly. Spilled tiny jewels all over the floor in the middle of art project? No big deal. Does the dog want out again? Eh, I’ll get up and do it instead of screaming my head off for someone else, getting angry when no one listens, and fighting with people over whose turn it was. Kids leave the gate open so the puppy snarfed something? Whatever. Things are impermanent and don’t mean anything. Practice non-attachment.

Stuck in a house with five people for months on end, you need a slow fuse. You need to tolerate what was once intolerable. Pot lets me do that.

Pot Makes Me Playful

But my favorite part of pot is this: in normal life, I often lose perspective with my kids. They’re little people that must be cared for, not little people I can enjoy. Pot helps me be a fun, playful parent. I do more art projects: for example, we found a cheap wooden pop-out dino skeleton puzzles, hot-glued them together, and painted them. We glue paint canvases and glue antique buttons to them. We make attractive wall art.

But not only do I have fun breaking out the sharpies and making evil versions of various LEGO droids, I also play board games. Remember how your mom always hated to play Monopoly? Not me. I am the queen of Sharkopoly; I yell through Exploding Kittens; I will even sit for endless games of War, a card game devised by Satan himself. How do I deal with the monotony—not only of these games, but of everyday life? Pot. Everything seems new and interesting and fun, in a gentle way. That includes Parcheesi.

It Stops the Stress

Luckily, I have a freelance job that I can do while I’m high—partially because this stuff doesn’t make you stupid. I am a caring and interested interviewer with stellar interpersonal skills. I’m creative. It’s easier to get work done, especially with small people screaming in the background.

But more than anything, pot lets me live and let go. I can prioritize: months from now, will a clean house matter, or will my kids remember that I yelled at them? Does the glitter on the floor matter in the grand scheme of life? What’s important? The pot makes the answer clear-cut: my children. My children are my top priority, and I need to be the best parent I can be for them.

That means I need to be mellow during a crisis. I need to tamp down my own anxiety. I need to chill out. All these things help them to chill out, and gets them through. I’m mama. Navigating this pandemic starts with me. I set the tone. And I need to set a positive, mellow, happy tone for us.

So I smoke pot. It works. My kids don’t see, and they don’t have access to it; all they know is that their mom is peaceful and engaged.

Judge away, Karen. Tell us how you’re so much stronger and better because you can do this without pot. I don’t really care. If COVID-19 has done one thing, it’s taken every fuck I had to give (except for those related to COVID-19, i.e. we’re staying in and not coming out). If pot helps me cope, awesome. If crocheting helps you cope, crochet away. If training your dog, or standing on your head, or exercise, or eating helps you cope, do these things. We all need help. It’s no shame to admit it right now.

My help is pot. It makes me a better person. It makes me a better parent. So I smoke away.

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I’m Tired Of Being Judged For My Resting B*tch Face

I have a resting bitch face. I always have, and obviously always will — I mean, you can only change your face so much, and I have no desire to try and look friendlier to make other people comfortable.

I got the RBF from my father. My whole life, people have said things to me like “You look mad,” “I thought you were a bitch before I got to know you,” and “I thought you’d be intimidating, but you aren’t.”

I think it’s a normal reaction to judge people by their expressions or how “friendly” they seem before we approach them. I did it for years — someone who is smiling and seems friendly feels safer and more likely to accept us, and we don’t worry as much about rejection. 

Really though, when people peg others as being unfriendly or cold, especially before they get to know them, it’s their own insecurities shining through. If they want to put folks in a box, who am I to stop them?

I can be quiet at times. I’m not into oversharing unless I’m in the mood, or feeling like my voice has to be heard. There are many times I like to sit back and listen, and I don’t feel the need to chime in with my story or experience.

Sometimes it’s from pure, utter exhaustion. But most of the time, when someone confides in me, it doesn’t feel appropriate to talk about an experience I’ve had even if it relates to someone else’s, or offer unsolicited advice.

That’s not being unfriendly — it’s called having manners and truly listening. 

There have been times people have mistaken my listening or silence for judgement, but that’s not who I am.

People have asked what my problem is if I don’t want to hang or I go home early. 

I’ve been questioned about being in a bad mood when I feel utterly content to sit and just be without saying or smiling much.

I don’t always have to have a piece of the action during group conversations. Long pauses don’t bother me. Silence doesn’t hurt my ears, and there are many times my extroverted ways turn introverted really quickly, and I don’t feel the need to explain myself.

It’s taken me a long time to realize I don’t always have to smile. And the dudes who come up to me telling me to do so are the ones with the problem, not me.

I don’t have to give details about why I’m not talkative or I don’t want to stay late at the gathering. It’s not personal. It has nothing to do with anyone except for me.

I get tired. My energy runs low when I’m surrounded by people all the time. I don’t show up or smile or talk just to make others comfortable any longer.

I used to — for too long — but now I don’t anymore. When I’m tapped out, I’m tapped out, and that’s okay. It doesn’t mean I’m cold.

Not talking because I don’t feel like it doesn’t make me a bitch. 

Not walking around with a happy look doesn’t mean I’m unapproachable.

Just because I don’t have a response to something doesn’t mean I’m unfriendly.

But if you take it that way and would like to put the blame on me for your own insecurity, that’s okay with me.

The freeing thing about getting older is you no longer take on the responsibility of other people’s opinions of you.

You also no longer feel the need to be “on” all the time just because you don’t want to be perceived in a certain way. 

If you want to think I’m cold because it makes you feel better, that’s none of my business. 

But, I think more people need to stop and think about what they consider unfriendly or cold and if they are just in their reasoning.

Because the men of the world who feel the need to preach about how women should “Smile and be happy” are only letting their insecurities show. 

They need to think about the fact that they are annoying, obnoxious, and we aren’t here to make them comfortable.

And if we do act unapproachable to them, we are doing it on purpose to keep them away — and we aren’t going to suddenly morph into Princess Charming to suit their needs.

It’s okay to not smile and to go home early. It’s okay to say “no.” It’s okay to be in a bad mood. It’s okay to tell someone to back the fuck off at the risk of seeming cold. And really, it’s okay if people see you as unfriendly whether you actually are or not — you know your truth, and the last thing you need to carry around is trying to make everyone’s opinion of you a good one. 

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We’re Staying Distanced, Thanks

On June 25, Teri Carter tweeted the that she and her family were staying distanced, thanks:

As for me and mine, we agreed. Our family remains agoraphobic recluses, thanks. As for “no gatherings more than 4 ppl total”? Is this woman insane? We’ve seen no one but our friend Joey from 12 feet away in our front yard since March, and my mom once in a while (until we figured out she was breaking quarantine, then we couldn’t see her anymore).

I have cut my kids’ hair. My husband cut his own hair. I never went in for pedicures or manicures. We have most groceries delivered, and when my husband must go out to the pharmacy or the grocery store or the pet store (can’t let my son’s frog collection go hungry), he goes masked, gloved, and distanced, and only to places that enforce mask rules and distancing. He leaves the house perhaps once a week. The rest of us rarely leave at all.

We’re Terrified to Stop Staying Distanced

We live in the South. Almost every day sees a new record high number of cases in my state. But that’s not all. We’re seeing record number of COVID-19 cases in the United States when the 5-day average is taken into account, according to Johns Hopkins University. This isn’t because of an increased number of tests, either — my state’s news source is careful to point this out. Our state health department says we had a 19.7% positive test rate the day of our record high. Johns Hopkins reports that the WHO, on May 12, said that before a country reopens, the percentage of COVID-19 tests that come back positive should be 5% or under for at least 14 days. Less than half of US states have met that goal for seven days.

My state has completely reopened everything from indoor dining to salons to churches to private Little League games to zoos. Some local municipalities have required masks in public; ours is not one of them.

We’ve Tried Opening Up A Little

We once drove an hour to what we knew would be a relatively unpopular state park. There were about ten people there. We thought staying distanced would be simple. We brought masks for ourselves and the kids. We knew the fresh air and sunshine were on our side. But a woman tried to tell me about an alligator. She began walking towards me— and my six-year-old. She kept coming. And coming. It was like one of those zombie movies where the zombies won’t stop. I finally yelled, “Don’t get any closer to me!”  She stopped about ten feet away, huffed, and mumbled something about how she was only trying to tell me about the alligator, god. So much for staying distanced.

I have not been out of the house since.

My husband has found a few ways to get the kids out while staying distanced. He takes them up to the empty parking lot to ride bikes. There’s a nearby stream where they can catch minnows, but only when it hasn’t rained (and in our state, there’s a summer thunderstorm every other day). When the water levels in the river are low enough, he sneaks out at dawn, takes a secret path down to the river, wades out to the middle of the goddamn thing, and fishes. It’s too deep to take the little ones, but my 10-year-old can manage it. They sneak back up before anyone can see them. It’s like a covert operation, and every time they go— especially when he takes my son— I’m anxious until he returns. “Did you see anyone?” I ask nervously when he comes in the door. “Was anyone there?”

For the First Time, We Ordered Food

A few nights ago, we ordered food from Door Dash. Since we’ve been so strict about staying distanced, it was the first time I have eaten a meal that we have not cooked since March 13th. We ordered our favorite fast food for a contactless delivery; my husband washed his hands after touching the packaging (every time) and plated the food.

It was a sense memory, a taken-for-granted memory, a thing forgotten and not missed until we had it again. We stared at each other. My husband said to me, “Do you remember our friend who grew up under the Iron Curtain telling the story of how they never had pears? And suddenly they had one, and it was this event, this glorious thing that she never forgot?”

I burst into tears.

Staying distanced has made me sort of nutty. And no, it doesn’t compare to growing up under the damn Iron Curtain and the privations thereof. God, they didn’t have Amazon Prime. But that sudden sense memory, of the food forgotten and the taste rediscovered: I felt it deeply. This was a food we picked up thoughtlessly, regularly, in between places, when the kids were hangry and needed a boost. Suddenly it had gone, and we hadn’t missed it while we were staying distanced, not really, not until it sat in front of us and we realized how much we missed it, how much we missed everything.

But we are still staying distanced.

We will stay distanced until there is a vaccine. We’re too worried about our children’s health to risk it. We will be here until after Christmas. We know that. We’ve accepted it in our brains, if not our bones. Unless my husband must go back to a full classroom and the point becomes moot, we will not leave.

How Will Staying Distanced Change Us?

A friend read one of my essays the other day. I said to that we would eventually come out the other end of it, but I didn’t know how we would come out the other end of staying distanced. I didn’t know how staying distanced, in other words, would change us. I don’t mean will we wash our hands obsessively, or will I always carry hand sanitizer, or will I shy away from keypads (the last is likely).

I need to wake up very early in the morning now to keep my sense of sanity. Will that continue?

How will I react to Target? Will we eat out less? Will we spend more or less time together as a family? What will matter to us? What will have changed? Will I keep cutting my kids’ hair (probably) and will my husband keep cutting his own (I hope so, he looks like f*cking Russell Crowe)? Will he keep working out the way he does now (again, I hope so, see previous parentheses)?

While everyone goes out, while everyone says no more, too much, I can’t stand staying home anymore, we’re in it for the long haul.

Staying distanced is hard.

But we’re not sick.

The post We’re Staying Distanced, Thanks appeared first on Scary Mommy.

Owning My Blackness, Hair and All

Black women and our hair, the act of getting it done, spending hours (typically the better part of an entire day, or say 5+ hours) at the salon, the waiting, the routine of it all, it is an activity that has in some ways, defined us. It has inevitably allowed us to create a kind of community among us, a haven of sorts where we can figuratively wash away the troubles around us.

As a child, going to the salon was a family affair. Every other Saturday morning, I’d drive with my maternal grandmother, aunts, and cousin and we’d sit for long periods. We would ping pong between the dryer and the hairstylist’s chair, waiting our turn to get our ‘do done. For myself and many other Black women, it was one of the ways we found a space to explore our own identity.

For so many years, more than I’d like to admit to, I fought against getting the hairstyle I have today, sisterlocks. In the ’80s I donned a Jheri curl. In the ’90s, it was a svelte cropped cut, which I’d sometimes swap out for long synthetic braids which were interlocked into my hair. Then in the ‘00s came the flat-iron.

By 2011, I’d had enough of my trips to the salon, enough of traveling the winding road to find another hairstylist because I’d moved to a new city. I was ready to embrace who I was, and root myself a little deeper into my Blackness, not to mention save money. I decided to do the big chop and wear the hair on my head exactly as it grew out of it: no alterations or any modifications of any kind.

As my hair grew out, so did my confidence. I had more money in my pocket, opting to take on the responsibility of my hair maintenance on my own. I also grew into my skin more. I began to own my Blackness in a way that I’d never done before. Not only did I have hair confidence, but confidence in my body too. My thighs, the same ones I thought were once too big and jiggly, I appreciated more for carrying me. And I chose to view my nose and my dark skin as badges of honor, finally appreciating them for the beauty. 

My wife, on one of our very first dates, asked me “Have you ever tried dreadlocks? I love them!” The disgusted look on my face and the explanation which followed turned her question into a yearly one, but one she would never let go of. After my twin daughters were born, I could not bear giving myself five minutes to even take a shower let alone commit two hours needed to twist my hair every other day and maintain it the way it needed. The idea of committing to something as permanent as sisterlocks became more of a reality with each passing day. So I spent twenty-seven hours in my new hairstylist’s chair, known as a loctician in the sisterlocks community — with a sore butt and all, kind of like what your ass feels like after your first spin class when it was all said and done. I then paid her close to $1,000 for her work and had 520 mini locs to show for it. I was all in; there was no turning back now. 

With my hair done and a slight fear that I would not like it tomorrow when I looked in the mirror, this ‘do was something I said I would never actually do. So why now, in 2020, did I decide to finally lock my hair? Why did I find myself losing countless hours on YouTube, Instagram, and Pinterest searching up “sisterlocks” or “natural hair” or drooling at the sight of Naptural85’s loose luscious curls or Jess_inprogress_’s gorgeous locks? This hair community, albeit online, was now my community. I could “be” in the salon with thousands of other black women, with sisterlocks or natural hair, who for so many years, I would have given the side-eye to.

Now, I am one of them. Not only were they introducing me to different hairstyles or ways of life, but they were (without even knowing it) reintroducing me to myself, to who I am as a Black woman, hair and all. With each swipe left or right on Instagram, I felt empowered to live more confidently in my skin. I began to pack up the notion I’d told myself over the years, that dreadlocks and sisterlocks would make me “too Black.” If this was the story I told myself, then wearing my straightened ‘do meant that I was not Black enough, didn’t it?

What I truly know now, as a 38-year-old Black woman, is this: I am me. I am a work in progress. I am not searching any longer for something on the outside to make me whole on the inside. All I need is right here within my Black body, hair, and all.

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Highly Sensitive Empaths Are Really In Their Feelings Right Now

I am a big feeling person. By some definitions, I’m considered a highly sensitive person, or HSP. I’m thin-skinned or overly empathetic. I’m dramatic and emotional. I have big feelings — about everything.

I have feelings about my feelings. I have feelings about other people’s feelings. I have feelings about feelings about feelings. (Ooof, I’m emotionally exhausted just thinking about it).

I don’t just overthink things; I make a job out of turning things over in my mind and fretting about them. My specialty tends to be things outside of my control too, particularly all those regrets and mistakes from the past. I don’t just dwell on them; I build a freaking tent and take up residence there.

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A few years ago, I was talking to a friend about the drama of parenting, the ups and downs of life, and the general clusterfuck of the daily news. After listening to my emotional rants and tearful woes, and comparing her own feelings, she said, “I think you might feel things more than most people.”

If this sounds exhausting, it is. Not just because all of ruminating and fretting can keep me up at night, but also because it’s emotionally draining.

But I am who I am, and I’ve made peace with it. For the most part anyway.

As an HSP, my emotional “feelers” have been in overdrive for the past few years. Since the night of November 8, 2016 if I’m being precise, but they’ve been kicked up even further in the past few months. The coronavirus pandemic has created a perfect storm for empath tendencies. Anxiety is at an all-time high. We’re worried about the health and safety of our family, of course, but we’re also practically sick with fear over the possibility of other’s getting sick. We cry over all the folks who have lost loved ones or jobs due to the pandemic.

Allostatic load makes us feel like we’ve run a marathon every day for the past 3+ months, even if all we’ve done is walk from our bed to the fridge to the couch. Decision fatigue is making us feel like we’re losing our minds. And then there’s all the second-guessing anytime you leave your house or try to safely move through the new reopening phases. Is this safe? How about that? What if I do everything “right” and still inadvertently spread the virus? Is it more harmful for my kids to stay shut off from their friends or are things like bike rides while wearing masks okay? Any way I look at it, I feel like I’m failing someone or doing something “wrong.”

Add to that the acute awareness that racial justice is an illusion in this country. As a white person, I feel immense shame just about every minute of every day. I feel anger at the rampant racism. But it’s not just anger — it’s like a blinding rage.

When you’re a highly empathetic person, you don’t just feel compassion and sympathy and joy for others; you feel these feelings as if they were your own. Empathy, by definition, extends beyond compassion, and means that you vicariously experience the thoughts and feelings of others.

But here’s the real kicker… as an empath, you also see nuance. You sometimes feel conflicted because when you feel things in a big way and can feel the pain of others, there are fewer clear-cut answers. (Though, don’t get me wrong, when it comes to things like racism and listening to public health experts, there are right and wrong answers.) For some things, there are infinite shades of gray, which can create a lot of confusion. You feel the pain of working parents who desperately want schools to return to in-person learning in the fall; you also feel the immense fear of parents who are terrified of sending their kids out into the world. You feel the cautious optimism of folks who are trying to figure out a way to manage this “new normal” safely by going to an outdoor café; you also feel the loneliness of folks who due to an underlying medical condition or their own comfort level are still socially isolating.

Being an overly empathetic, big feeling, thin-skinned, highly sensitive person sometimes feels like a curse, but ultimately, I do think it’s a blessing. Your empathy creates understanding and connection; it helps you do what’s good for others, not just yourself or your family. Being a highly sensitive empath is the reason I’m so diligent about mask-wearing and social distancing. I’m not trying to protect myself or even my kids; I’m trying to protect you.

Fellow empaths, I don’t have a lot of advice, but I have found a few things that can help manage those big feelings. I sometimes take breaks from social media and significantly cut down on my news consumption. I’m careful about who I let into my “circle” — focusing on a small number of close friendships rather than a boatload of lukewarm friends. Therapy and medication also helps.

One of the biggest risks for empaths, however, is letting your big feelings trick you into thinking that you’ve actually done something. Let me be very clear here: emotions do not equal action. It isn’t enough to cry when you read about micro aggressions or lynchings; you need to actually protest, sign a petition to defund the police, or otherwise advocate for justice. Worrying about coronavirus isn’t enough to keep you from getting it; you need to also wear your masks, use that hand sanitizer, and stay six feet away.

Bottom line: big feelings aren’t enough. You need to actually do something too.

The good news is that doing something usually helps temper those out of control big feelings. At least I’ve found that to be true. So get out there and do something. Start small if you need to, but do something.

Whenever my big feelings start to feel too overwhelming, I try to remind myself of this quote by Iain Thomas (though it’s often credited to Kurt Vonnegut): “Be soft. Do not let the world make you hard. Do not let the pain make you hate. Do not let the bitterness steal your sweetness.”

So, stay soft, my empath friends. We may be overly empathetic, big feeling, thin-skinned, highly sensitive people. While it can seem like the world is going to hell in a handbasket some days (most days lately?), we stay soft. We fight the urge to become bitter. We take pride that, despite all evidence to the contrary, we still believe the world to be a beautiful place.

And then we can try to make it so.

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If You’re Wanting To Legally Free The Nipple, Here’s Where You Can (Literally) Hang Out

It’s getting hot out there, folks, and nothing signals sweaty times like a man casually doing all the things without a shirt while women change their bra for the third time of the day or give up and just walk around with paper towels under their boobs. And little more signals the hypocrisy of said man attached to his exposed man-boobs than his complaints about a woman not wearing a bra or trying to breastfeed her baby in public while clinging to the expectation that a woman should show him her tits whenever he demands it.

First of all, fuck off, Chad. Second of all, many women would love to walk around topless as freely as men do, on their terms, but it’s not universally legal. While the double standards run deep and wide in this country, specifically between genders, there are places that give equality to the nipple.

If you want to let it all hang out, 31 states in the U.S. have “top freedom.” But several factors prohibit women from walking around with breasts to the wind even if technically allowed to do so. Laws are often ambiguous and vary between cities within states. And topless women are arrested under the guise of disorderly conduct. According to the site Go Topless, if you want to know if you can free the teats, the suggestion is to Google the city name and its municipal code and key in the word “nudity.” To cover your bases, they further suggest that you “Do the same for the county where the city is located to be sure. Consult with an attorney.”

In 2019, Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico, Kansas, and Oklahoma became the newest states to eliminate a ban on women going topless after a federal court ruling. The case was won by women who are part of the #FreeTheNipple movement—which has gained public support from Chelsea Handler, Miley Cyrus, and Chrissy Teigen. However, Utah woman Tilli Buchanan recently took a plea deal and admitted to lewdness for being topless in her own home.

Three years ago, Tilli Buchanan was hanging drywall with her husband in their Utah garage. After getting hot and covered in the residue of their work, they took off their shirts. Buchanan’s step children, a 13-year-old boy, a 10-year-old girl and a nine-year-old boy, walked in and saw their father and stepmother topless. The children’s mother filed criminal charges against Buchanan because Utah law stated that any exposure of the breast below the top of the areola is punishable with jail time and the need to register as a sex offender for 10 years. Buchanan fought the charges, but eventually took the plea deal earlier this year. Despite knowing she didn’t do anything wrong (her husband completely supported her too), the risk of being labeled a pedophile was too high.

And what it is it about the areola? What specifically about a “female” nipple makes lawmakers (men) declare them illegal? Oh right. Because people (men) sexualize breasts (women) to the point of blaming the breasts (women) for resulting behavior (harassment, assault, rape). So, instead of men getting their shit together and taking responsibility, they turn women’s bodies into their legal playground.

For clarity, I am writing this article as if gender is binary and body parts have a gender. It isn’t, and they don’t, but the laws are set up this way so I must bend a bit. However, as a nonbinary person who has had a double mastectomy with nipple grafts, I can’t help but wonder what gender my nipples are. Legally, my birth certificate and other documents indicate I am female because the state I was born in doesn’t recognize a third gender, but my chest is visually male. I no longer have breasts and my areolas and nipples have been resized and replaced to give me a masculine chest.

I could have chosen not to have my nipples put back on my body. Without nipples, do I have a gender? What about the transgender woman with breasts? Is a transgender woman rightfully considered a woman in this case? Or will the bigots still hold tight to misgendering her and let her waltz around town with her boobs and areolas hanging out?

We can speculate for days, but if you want to go topless and need some moral support, there are events and cities that celebrate the nips. Sadly, COVID-19 has cancelled or altered some of the most popular ones. The World Naked Bike Ride in Portland has been cancelled, but the Ride in New Orleans is still on — with some social distancing rules, of course. If riding while naked isn’t your thing, World Topless Day is scheduled to take place August 23, 2020. The event was started by the organization Go Topless after topless activist Phoenix Feeley was arrested in 2005, despite it being legal to be topless in New York City year-round. The yearly event coincides with Women’s Equality Day.

Besides NYC, some other cities that have been “topless tested” are Asheville, NC, Columbus, OH, Madison, WI, and Santa FE, NM. There’s always New Orleans and South Beach too.

Men can safely be shirtless and yet women are asked to cover up—even when they are allowed to free-boob it. Not surprisingly, plenty of clothing is made to accentuate breasts and cleavage as if the message to women is this: titillate us with what you have but don’t give it all away until we demand or expect it.

Women’s bodies are not for male consumption, control, or pleasure. Free yourself from the bullshit and free the nipples.

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Leash Your F*cking Dog, People

It seems like almost every time I go out for a jog lately, I come across an unleashed dog in some form or another. During one run a couple of weeks ago, I encountered three separate unleashed canines. Two were yappy little ankle biters charging at me full throttle from their lawns in code-red attack mode, ready to chew off my Achilles tendons.

Y’all, I really, really, really do not want to be put in a position to have to defend myself against someone’s dog. As much as I promise myself I would never, ever, under any circumstance harm a dog, what if I panicked and kicked out of reflex? This thought terrifies me. Thank goodness each of these tiny terrors chickened out once they got about two feet from me. But seriously, why can’t people just leash their damn dogs? Besides the fact that they terrorized me, they could get hit by a car.

The other off-leash dog I saw on that run was a large pitbull mix walking with its owner. I love pit bulls — I don’t subscribe to the notion that they’re vicious. However, pit bulls are large, muscular animals, known for loyalty to their masters. And this pit bull’s back was to me. I had no way to know if my jogging up on this owner would startle her dog and cause it to react in defense. As calm as it appeared to be, it’s still an animal, and animals sometimes react unexpectedly, sometimes with their teeth. I paused my running app, turned off my music, slowed to a walk, and shouted to the woman to ask if her dog was going to be okay with me passing by. We ended up having a nice exchange, and I even pet the dog — total love muffin — but I still came away from that situation annoyed.

This woman’s decision to walk her dog without a leash forced me to have to modify my behavior and take precautionary actions. No one should have to stop everything they’re doing and formulate a plan of action because someone else doesn’t feel like leashing their dog.

Just yesterday I was out for a run and suddenly heard a galloping/panting sound over my music. I panicked and spun around, and sure enough, a huge dog was charging me. It took me a second to realize it was only a dopey golden retriever with a giant grin on its face just wanting to be my very best friend, but it scared the everloving shit out of me. My heart rate was already up from running, so it went through the roof when I momentarily panicked that I was being attacked.

And yet I want to recognize that for all my complaining, I’m not afraid that I’ll end up dead if I complain to the wrong dog owner. Because I’m white.

Christian Cooper should never have had to say a damn thing to Amy Cooper when she was walking her dog off leash in Central Park. Her racism is obviously the most glaring problem in that interaction, but her entitlement about her dog was big issue too. In fact, her racism is intertwined with her assumption that rules don’t apply to her. In both cases, she believes — whether consciously or subconsciously — that she is superior.

Amy Cooper assumed no one would mind if she bent the rules a little, teehee, who’s gonna say anything? Mr. Cooper was right to ask her to leash her dog, but he shouldn’t have had to say anything in the first place. A crucial point that white people need to understand when they engage in entitled behavior that makes other people feel nervous is that we might not just be disrupting someone else’s day. We could very well endanger someone’s life.

We dog owners are so in love with our dogs that we can’t imagine anybody could ever look at our sweet little ball of fluff and think they could possibly be a danger. And I get that — I’m obsessed with my dog to a degree that probably merits a psychological evaluation. Literally, if you don’t like my dog, we can’t be friends because I’ll assume you’re a sociopath. It’s super gross how much I love this animal.

But I would never attempt to walk my dog off leash around strangers in an area that wasn’t specifically designated for that purpose. Because I’m not a fucking asshole and I realize that not everybody likes dogs. Not only that, but not everybody can read dog body language. For someone who can’t read dog expressions, the happiest dog running up to greet a stranger could be a terrifying, traumatic experience. And, yes, I am aware that in a yard situation, a barking dog very well may be contained behind one of those invisible electric fences — but passerby don’t know that, and your territorial pooch may be causing a heart attack for someone who’s out trying to take a walk. Why would anyone want to make another human being feel that way? Just because you think your precious pup is cute running around off leash? It’s not cute. It’s rude AF. Use the dog park or other designated off-leash areas. And if those areas are closed and you’re super bummed that Pooch can’t stretch his legs the way you think he needs to, walk faster.

People, it doesn’t matter how nice your dog is. Not everyone likes dogs, not everyone feels safe around dogs, especially when said dog is unleashed, and other people shouldn’t have to modify their behavior or have a conversation with you about your dog just because you don’t feel like using a leash. If you’re going to be a dog owner, the only way to do that is to be a responsible one. You have to commit to making sure you have the equipment that a dog requires to keep the dog and everyone around them safe. And that means getting, and using, a leash.

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