The Evolution of Power, Bikini-Style

I can’t help but keep thinking about this, so I thought I would take it to the virtual page. Indulge me, for just a moment.

My mom sent me a video this week, along with a personalized greeting, saying she thought I might be interested in it because I love bikinis so much.

Totally true. Some women have a weakness for shoes, or snow globes, or faceless porcelain statues that I will never understand. But hey, no judgement. I collect bikinis, so I’m equally as strange. I never really spend a lot on them, but it’s one of those things that immediately catches my eye in a store and lures me in like an unprotesting fish on a line, ready to dine. (As a side note, I had quite the array until my ex preemptively threw out most of them as soon as I moved out, but had yet to remove all of my stuff. I’m over it. Sort of. Anyway, I have since started collecting once more.)

So, automatically, I was intrigued by her email. I clicked on the link.

You are welcome to watch it. But, be warned, it did disturb me and continued to do so, more and more, as time passed and the girl’s message really sank in.

If you don’t want to watch, the gist of the ten-minute video is this: the bikini has a long history, stemming from the times when women wore great ballooning outfits and required bathing houses, where they would change into their ridiculous costumes and be wheeled down to the water’s edge, so no one would catch sight of an offensive bare leg or arm.

The bathing suit, of course, evolved and the invention of the bikini was quite a scandal in its day. The creator had to hire a prostitute to model it, because no self-respecting French girl would come near something so itsy-bitsy.

And now we have modern day, where the beaches and pools of the world are filled with all sorts of tiny swimwear for women. People see it as a sign of female power. But is it? The speaker references two studies conducted on the male brain, to measure the true effect of seeing a woman in a bikini. Basically, the part of brain most associated with tools lights up like a Christmas tree. He links the picture to present tense, first-person verbs, like “I grab, I handle.”

Therefore, she suggests, it isn’t actually a form of power, beyond having the ability to turn men into neanderthals. Instead, we should be reverting back to “modest dress”–especially when it comes to what we wear around the pool. She has started her own swimwear line, which make the 60s swimsuits look relatively “cheeky.” Her argument is that this is more empowering for women.

So, here is my reaction: ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME?

Ahem, let me be more eloquent in my assessment. By only referencing studies of the male brain, she seems to be saying that the perceptions of others (specifically those of the opposite sex) should be the only thing that shapes how we see ourselves as women. That we should accept that power exists solely in the position of the voyeur.

Where are the studies of how the female brain is affected by seeing another woman in such swimwear? Or, better yet, the female brain when she is wearing the bikini herself? Why are we STILL looking to men for approval and, I choke on this as a write it, permission for power?

All things in proper context of course (I would never wear one walking down the street, the same way I don’t wear a parka to the beach in July), but I love wearing bikinis. I put my collection to good use in the summer and on vacation. They’re colourful and playful: fashion as a reflection of myself. I enjoy feeling the sun on my skin, the water rushing past me in the pool (and not getting dragged down by copious amounts of material). I work hard to stay healthy and be fit, and I think I deserve to wear whatever it is that makes me feel good about my body. Do guys stare at me at the beach? I don’t know. BECAUSE I DON’T CARE ENOUGH TO NOTICE.

I feel good. I feel confident. I feel powerful. And it has nothing to do with how other people see me.

Now, my mother meant no harm by sending me the link. She simply was giving me something to think about, which I always appreciate. However, I whole-heartedly disagree with the message of the video.

If you want to wear a dress in the pool, if that’s what makes you feel good, powerful and fashion-forward, two-thumbs up to you. Go ahead. I say this with a straight face, no sarcasm. Seriously. Fashion is all about personal expression.

But I’ll stick to my bikini, thanks.

Weird to a Fault In Our Stars

fault in our starsJohn Green’s A Fault in Our Stars has been on my reading list for awhile. I don’t often get to explore books of my own volition, as most often my pile of material consists solely of YA novels the publicists so nicely ship out for review. The pile grows and grows and I never really reach the end of it.

However, while I was passing some time in between one appointment and another downtown the other week, I stopped in at Indigo, which is the best and worst place on earth. The best, obviously, because that’s where all of the books live and I can roam through those shelves for hours, both fascinated by the thousands of titles and by the idea that one day, if I eat my writer’s spinach like I should, I might be amongst them (I have, more than once, narrowed in on the K shelf and found exactly where such a work might be housed, if I have my way). The worst, even more obviously, because the store tends to eat my funds at a rate more rapid than the government. Hungry, hungry.

So, while killing some time, I dared to roam the shelves for a bit before heading to the counter with a few items. One of those was John Green’s fifth novel, which is about a 16-year-old cancer patient named Hazel, who has been living with a terminal diagnosis for most of her life. Her parents force her to go to a support group, afraid she is becoming too isolated with her solo reading and watching of America’s Next Top Model reruns. So, she goes. Begrudgingly. And there, she meets Augustus Waters, a former high school basketball star who lost his leg to osteosarcoma, but is in remission. Even though she resists, her whole look on life, and dying, gets turned upside down.

As you might be able to tell, based on the synopsis, this book made me cry. No, not cry. Bawl. Loudly. And made my boyfriend wonder if I might be emotionally unstable.

Now, I am an avid reader, like I said before, so I come across books all the time that make me cry. But this one was different.

John Green has created characters whose bodies are betraying them. They are literally death-creating machines, if you will. But the characters, however full of death, are more alive than those who will survive them. The banter of Hazel and Augustus, as their relationship develops, is witty and wonderful, and not at all typical of what most authors insert as “teen lingo.” While reading the book, I found myself flipping very quickly between laughing hysterically (out loud) and crying hysterically (even more out loud). And sometimes even doing both at once (a talent, I know).

When I write dialogue, a lot of people who read it tell me that it’s not believable. That teens don’t talk like that. That they would never express themselves with long-winded phrases like, “You have every right in the universe to be feeling a whole whack of mixed emotions right now—the entire Crayola Crayon super-pack of feelings. The big one too, that comes with a sharpener.” That they don’t know about literary references, or selfless acts or facts of life we consider “adult.” It’s unnatural. Who talks like that?

Answer: I do. Question: In high school, though? Answer: No. I started younger. In elementary school, I told everyone my pet peeve was “egotistical people.” The cool kids in middle school used to ask me to write “big words,” ones they wouldn’t understand, in the back of their yearbooks. People used to stare blankly as my best friend and I (we dubbed ourselves “Mischief Makers” based on our roles in a play inspired by Anton Chekov’s short stories) bantered back and forth in high school, pondering life’s great questions (like we had to abide by the rules of correct card opening; see picture below) and the last episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer (if you don’t think that show references literature and tackles the issues that matter, with a little blood-sucking on the side, then it’s time to take another look; Joss Whedon is a genius).


Their look of disbelief at my claim of oddly intelligent teen speech habits is somewhat insulting. For two reasons. One, being that I work with teens on a regular basis, so I know how witty/clever/profound they can be, perhaps when no one’s looking. Young adults are the most fascinating people on the planet; they walk around all full of energy and life-changing moments. They might know more about what’s real than we do, later on in our years. And, they can eat McDonald’s fries and not get fat. Mind. Boggling.

The second reason it’s insulting is because it makes me feel like my plate of life comes with a heaping side of weird. Sprinkled with the sauce of lets-avoid-her. Fine. I’ll accept it. I can’t write about normal people, because I’m not one of them. Does that make you happy?

But, I digress. Not that I put my self on par with John Green in any way (all hail someone who can control my emotions like a puppet master), but reading his work, where Hazel and Gus casually reference Samuel Beckett, Julius Caesar, “The Red Wheelbarrow” and the quest to leave a mark on the world before they depart prematurely, calmed my soul and lit me on fire. There ARE people out there, who share my weird streak and enjoy banter that takes on a form so opposite to polite dinner conversation that it’s like a different language entirely. And some of those people are writers. Great writers.

Soul, you can rest. There’s the calm. Here’s the fire. Now get to work finishing this book!

Diamonds in the Sky

“Dana threw away her diamond earrings this weekend.” Insert shock.

I have friends who like to tell the story this way, with only one sentence. But there’s more to it than that.


Some people will probably judge me for it, call me stupid and disregard the rest of what I have to say. But, I’m pretty sure that happens on a regular basis, so I’m not too worried.

For the rest of you, this is how the story really goes.

My friends and I were up in Montreal a couple of weeks ago for a Bachelorette party. We took the train in, sipping on wine in little juice boxes while the cars swished back and forth and everyone on board was thoroughly annoyed with our excited banter. The dirty looks didn’t really bother us much. We were on our way to celebrate with a girl most us have known and loved for more than a decade and there was not a boy in sight to ruin our fun. Precious moments.

And so began a weekend of perhaps too much drinking. But it was on the second night that the incident in question happened.

After a superb dining experience of tzatziki, fried cheese, Greek salad and plate breaking, we headed to a shot bar. The group was scattered between the dance floor and the bar (both of which were plagued with first-time drinkers at least 10 years younger than us scoping the scene while nervously playing with their straws). I was ordering a drink with one of my best friend’s beside me, when I reached up to fiddle with my earring (an unfortunate nervous habit of my own), when the touch came back empty. The small diamond hoop that I always wore wasn’t there.

Panicking, I reached up to grab for the opposite ear, thinking maybe I had taken them both out earlier and forgot to put them back in. Wrong. A solitary earring was dangling there. I had lost the other, somewhere along the journey of the night. Hotel. Cab. Restaurant. Cab. Street. Shot bar. It could have been anywhere.

“I’ve lost my earring!” I cried, out of exasperation, but also because, if you live in a box and don’t know, clubs are loud places and I wanted my bestie to hear the exclamation of distress.

She looked at me, narrowing her eyes to inspect the lobes on either side of my face.

“Who gave those to you?”

I stopped. Of course, it had been my ex. They were a birthday present for my 22nd birthday, when we were still dating. I still remember staring at the tiny box before I first opened it, wondering what lay inside. I had tried to push thoughts of a ring from my mind at the time. It could be anything, I thought. Anything sparkly, that is.

He was always buying me gifts, and not just on special occasions. Seemingly, for no reason at all. Even after we were married, people used to point to this as evidence that I was such a lucky girl.

But the gifts came with a price tag. They were guilt gifts. He hooked up with a girl at a bar; I got treated to a mani with my BFF. He spent the night trolling craigslist for “women seeking men” ads; I got surprised with that dress I’d been admiring in a store window. He got friendly with a member of his sailing club; I got an at-home paraffin wax kit.

Of course, the actual link between cause and effect were mostly unknown to me at the time. But eventually, I started putting the pieces together and crunching the numbers in my head. The price was far too high. I couldn’t afford the relationship anymore. And I left.

Now, I only wonder at the real cost of those diamond earrings I gasped at when I first opened them over six years ago. Whatever it was, I felt done with paying the debt.

“It’s a sign,” she said. “Give me the other one.”

Now, the next bit is what most people will consider a bit crazy. She took the earring in her hand, we joined pinkies, closed our eyes and tossed it behind us.

“Make a wish.”

I got yelled at by various people who heard the story throughout the night, demanding that I go searching for it immediately. But as I joined my friends on the dance floor and grooved out to “Single Ladies” (in a totally ironic type of way), I felt completely liberated. And yes, perhaps a bit tipsy.

Yet looking back, I don’t regret the impulse decision to throw away a symbol of my purchased silence. I had spent so long not being honest or open about the hardships of my marriage, even to the people closest to me. To my own detriment, as well as to the relationships I cherished most. I sacrificed them for the sake of someone who ended not being worth it. I clicked the clasp of my diamond earrings into place every day and put on a smile. I closed myself off.

Now, I feel better. I feel lighter. I feel like I’m back in the world. Life isn’t all lemonade, but it isn’t a complete lemon, either. Piece by piece, I am letting go and embracing the next chapter. One that’s full of friends, family, happiness and, hopefully, a bit of success.

But no diamonds. Diamonds aren’t this girl’s best friend. They aren’t worth near enough for that.