Sh*t To Help You Show Up March 1, 2021
Friday Is A State of Mind...
Hey, friends. Yes, I know, the Sh*t To Help You Show Up round-up is generally a Friday sort of a thing around here at Let Your Life Speak. But Mercury Retrograde, true to form, was a doozy this go ’round for me— missed connections, delays, etc. So, the Let Your Life Speak interview that should be out today isn’t going to be ready until Friday.
It being my party, as they say, I’ll do what I want to, and just flip things to make Friday today. If it all feels a little weird, no worries. The next interview is going to be better than Mondays are anywhere as a general rule, so you should definitely look forward to that.
In the culture these days we talk a lot about the importance of representation, but many folks seem to accept just seeing more people of various identities as a sufficient fulfillment of the concept. It’s not. The true transformational power of representation in the culture is not just about seeing more women, BIPOC, queer folks, disabled folks, etc. It’s about witnessing and supporting all people in inhabiting their full humanity.
We don’t need more Black folks playing the magical helper in movies, or working in low-wage service jobs. We don’t need more disabled folks performing narratives where they “transcend” their disability to lead “normal” lives. We don’t need more queer folks being tragic, or women taking care of everybody. These representations simply cement stereotypes.
Instead, what we need is more people claiming space for themselves to be and do all the things— identity X full humanity = Representation Squared.
When I encounter examples of Representation Squared, it fills me with tremendous joy. This is the world I want to live in, where all people are encouraged to step into the fullness of themselves, and we all witness and celebrate that expression.
Here are a few examples of what I’m talking about. Do you have other examples? I’d love for you to share them in the comments.
Frances McDormand & Nomadland
Y’all, I love Frances McDormand. When I ran a bookstore she came in once and I wasn’t there. I will never get over this.
Frances is one of the best actresses of her generation, and has the awards to prove it. She also has completely refused to participate in the Hollywood beauty culture, which dictates that women should never age. To submit to those expectations would prevent her from being able to be the artist she wants to be, and Frances is not having it. In a recent cover profile for Vogue, interviewer Abby Aguirre notes:
McDormand has long made it a policy not to manipulate her appearance. She does not use Botox to flatten her wrinkles or filler to inflate her cheeks. When she smiles (and she does often), there are no patches of muscle paralysis. When she furrows her brow, it actually furrows. These days McDormand avoids wearing makeup, even on the red carpet. When she accepted her Oscar for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri two years ago, she did so bare-faced.
McDormand was featured on the cover of Vogue because a recent movie, Nomadland, in which she stars, is likely to do a run of the awards shows this season, and rightfully so. In it, McDormand plays Fern, a widow who moves into her van after the collapse of her company town in rural Nevada and moves from place to place picking up seasonal work and developing community with her fellow nomads.
This movie is a quiet, atmospheric marvel. It is marvelous, despite the absence of a dramatic narrative arc, because Fern is a fully-fleshed, complicated, independent woman determined to live her life how she sees fit, and she is neither punished for it nor ruined by it.
When was the last time you encountered a female character determinedly living functionally alone who is never assaulted (in order to show us how dangerous her choices are), never tragically lonely (to show that women aren’t meant to be solitary), and never saved by the love of a man (because that is the only way women can be safe and fulfilled)? The very existence of this movie paves the way for other women to step fully into their integrity, whether or not they make the same choices, simply by insisting the story of women includes a woman like Fern.
Again, in Vogue Aguirre writes:
McDormand says she is bringing marginal characters to the center. This description is not inaccurate, but I can’t help feeling it sells McDormand a bit short. The statement is true only when you are using movies as your frame of reference. Such characters are not marginal in the real world, after all. In the real world, female depression and rage are not uncommon, human faces age, and women continue to lead lives after 60—lives that often have little to do with men. If your reference point is the real world, McDormand isn’t bringing the margins to the center so much as she’s bringing more of the world to the screen.
You have to see this movie. It’s currently showing on Hulu. If you don’t have access, let me know and we’ll set up a viewing party on Zoom. I’m totally serious. Hit me up in the comments.
Black Kids & Their Technicolor Dreams
This weekend I also came across this amazing article from NPR, about a photography studio in Atlanta that invited young black kids to describe their dreams and then be photographed cosplaying them. This is not “I want to be a firefighter when I grow up” sort of dreaming, as if all children dream of is how they will make money someday; this is fantastical, big-dreaming about magic and the future and “being yourself unapologetically.”
These kinds of pictures empower all children, but particularly black children, to step into the fullness of their humanity. Integrity is born out of wholeness, so part of teaching integrity is encouraging all kids to be whole people. Whole people dream.
These photos and more are featured in the book Glory: Magical Visions of Black Beauty. If you have children, whether or not they are black, they will be changed by having this book.
Still I Rise
And finally, this video will make your day. The young women in this video are in high school, and yet they expertly and deliberately place themselves within the historic lineage of black female dancers, all to the soundtrack of Maya Angelou performing her famous poem “Still I Rise”.
There is perhaps no greater patron saint of wholeness and integrity than Maya Angelou. She insisted on her right to be fully herself, and to forge her own path according to her convictions about herself and the world. It is a joy to see these young women walking in her footsteps.
Please join me on Friday for the next Let Your Life Speak interview!
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