Femme Fierce: Mary Lambert

Wrack your brains a little. Turn them back to the 2014 Grammy Awards in which Macklemore performed his hit single ‘Same Love‘, with the assistance of Madonna and a pretty woman in a red dress, and in which Queen Latifah presided over the marriage of thirty-three homo- and heterosexual couples. It was musical history. And the woman in the red dress, far from just pretty and talented, helped start it all. Her name is Mary Lambert and the hook she sings in the chorus of ‘Same Love’ formed part of one of her debut solo singles: ‘She Keeps Me Warm’.

Lambert, an openly lesbian singer who had previously been best known in spoken word circles, helped contribute to an ongoing worldwide push for marriage equality. Since the song, one of many contributing pieces on the matter, was released the number of countries that have legalised same-sex marriage has risen to fifteen. Although the song and Mary herself can’t be credited with the entire movement, there is no denying that it and she played a part. But Lambert is more than just an inspiration as a lesbian icon. Much more.

A devout Christian from Washington, USA she battled internally with her own demons from a young age. Raised in a strict Pentecostal household from birth, and with a mother who came out as a lesbian when she was young, she has often struggled with lying outside the norms society laid out for her. Through all of this she worked to reconcile her and others’ beliefs to find her own identity and compromise of faith and personal authenticity. She has come to believe that homosexuality, far from being a sin, is part of God’s creation and that she is valuable just as she is. So often in this world we are presented moulds we must fit. You can be a Christian or you can be gay; you can be part of a family or you can be an individual: Pick one. Lambert hasn’t allowed these dichotomies to define her.

“I think it’s different for everybody. I guess it’s easier to demonize somebody that you don’t know or care about. So I think a lot of the rhetoric has to be reinforced by not thinking critically or not looking around and realizing their family member’s gay … my faith is definitely a lot more private. But I think there’s something I really do enjoy about the Christian community.” (credit: medium.com)

Lambert is open about all her past experiences, good and bad, and the lessons they’ve taught her. Her album, Heart on my Sleeve, is a wonderful representation of that. Aside from being openly gay, Lambert has also discussed publicly being sexual abused when she was younger and a lot of the torment and struggles she has been through in her life. She says as she becomes more famous she struggles to reconcile being honest with her honesty being relevant to the discussion.

“I guess I’m constantly moving between this negative thing of people wanting to collect you rather than connect with you. There have been times where I’ve done interviews where they’ll ask me really personal stuff about trauma that has nothing to do with, I don’t know, The GRAMMYs or something, and they’ll be like, “So how was it being sexually abused?” and I’ll be like, “It was terrible, why are you bringing this up?” [Laughs] So I mean, I do want to remain open, but there are definitely times where I go into a shell because I’m feeling re-triggered.” (source: BYT)

I admire Lambert’s devotion to her authenticity even in the face of potential manipulation and sensationalisation. Staying true to yourself and being open and honest must be challenging under such immense public glare but Lambert manages to seem both down to earth and real as she does it.

In one of Lambert’s recent releases, ‘Secrets’, she opens up about her insecurities and pushes back on a world that would dare to suggest they make her not-enough. Discussing her bipolar disorder, homosexuality and neuroses in a fun and light-hearted way she makes it clear they are mere pieces of her puzzle and do not detract from her worth.

Never is her authenticity and honesty more evident than in her relentless drive to promote body confidence. Lambert has spoken publicly about her body and her struggles with it growing up:

“To be honest, I used to hate shopping. I rarely left a store without crying, cursing my body, and swearing under my breath at the fashion industry. Maybe the industry thinks that fat people are a liability because our hands are made from Twinkies and we will wipe our Yellow #5 marshmallow fingers on the expensive jeans they make. I don’t know.” (credit: whowhatwear)

Far from allowing her size to make her an outcast in Hollywood, Lambert has used it to publicly discuss body image and the importance of self-love. In particular her song ‘Body Love’, done primarily in her original spoken-word style, exposes some harsh realities of not fitting into the established mould.

Since releasing ‘Body Love’, Lambert has discussed publicly receiving inspiring fan mail from a girl with a severe eating disorder who wasn’t sure how to find the strength to keep fighting. The week she listened to ‘Body Love’ was the first week she ate a whole meal. She said the song did more for her than any therapy session.

“Love your body the way your mother loved your baby feet,
and brother arm-wrapping shoulders,
and remember this is important.
You are worth more than who you fuck.
You are worth more that a waistline.
You are worth more than beer bottles displayed like artifacts.
You are worth more than any naked body could proclaim in the shadows;
more than a man’s whim or your father’s mistake.
You are no less valuable as a size 16 than a size 4;
you are no less valuable as a 32A than a 36C.
Your sexiness is defined by concentric circles within your wood.
You are a goddamned tree stump with leaves sprouting out.
Reborn.”

Mary Lambert is a woman who is not afraid to be flawed and fallible and broken in a world that demands perfection. She is not afraid to admit that she has struggled, that she has made mistakes. She’s not afraid to be less than what society demands and still believe she is more than enough just the way she is. She’s an inspiration.



Learning to be sick

Recently, I have had the misfortune of being unwell. Very unwell. Not in a chronic or life-threatning sense, thankfully, but still unwell enough for me to have spent the last three weeks in a constant state of pain, discomfort and fatigue. I have a kidney stone. Like I said, not life threatening. With a bit of luck the whole experience will be finished in a fortnight. But, for now, I am ill.

A kidney stone is not a visible illness. There are no physical symptoms that demarcate me. I don’t need aids to walk or see, bandages or plasters; I’m not covered in spots or bruises; I don’t have IV lines attached to me for fluids or medicine. I look healthy. But I am not. I am weak. I am tired. I am sore. I am uncomfortable. All states which are, in themselves, exhausting.

One of my IV fluid bags from my time in hospital.

The week I was released from hospital I came home to a house devoid of food. I needed to do the groceries. It took three days of rest for me to build up the energy to take on the task. An $80 shop, missing half the things I needed, took me an hour and a half. I had to lean on the trolley for support. I had to take constant breaks. I had to walk around the supermarket intoning constantly under my breath, reminding myself how strong I was and how capable I was of finishing the task. I felt like I needed to walk around in public with a sign that announced to people I was sick. I hugged the sides of aisles and footpaths and stopped regularly to check I wasn’t walking into other people’s paths. I shuffled. I changed directions frequently. I was a constant irritation to the people around me and I knew it. But I was doing the best I could. I spent the evening in bed recovering.

I returned to work a week after leaving hospital – a whole week ahead of when my doctors had planned. I was tired of being stuck at home, tired of feeling useless and ineffective, tired of feeling I had to justify my “laziness” to people. I returned on shortened hours at my GP’s orders: If I was stubborn enough to force myself back I was damned well going to make sure I didn’t overdo it.

At work I felt, and still feel, I had to constantly act my illness. I was brought up in a household where sickness didn’t stop you doing daily necessities. I was raised to just get on and do. I go to work, I smile, I laugh, I engage, I work my butt off. I leave at 3 and go home, barely able to walk back from the bus to my house. I don’t sit at my desk and whinge about how unwell I am, tell everyone about all my tests, moan about my pain and discomfort. I share but I don’t indulge. I don’t wallow. And I worry that they think I’m pretending. That I’m milking it. That I don’t really want to be there and I’m using my recent hospitalisation as an ongoing excuse. I worry that if I don’t fake it my colleagues and managers will think I am faking it.

I make plans for my weekend and I cancel half of them last minute. I feel like the biggest pain. I have always disliked people who can’t stick to their commitments. Been infuriated by them, even. I am now one of them. I never know from one hour to the next how I am going to feel. I woke up for work one day so exhausted and sore and uncomfortable that I called in sick. I took my meds and went back to sleep, only to wake up two hours later and text my boss to tell him I would be in by lunch. This is the nature of my illness. I have no control over my body and no way to predict how I will feel. Making plans with me is now an exercise in patience and understanding. I hate myself for it.

People ask me how I am and I wonder if I should tell them the truth. Do they want the truth? I suspect they want to hear how much better I am feeling since they last spoke to me. But it doesn’t work like that. I improved markedly for two weeks on end. And then my stone moved and I took a step backwards. Healing from a kidney stone while it is still inside you isn’t a liner progression; I can’t guarantee that tomorrow in a week’s time I will be healthier than I am today. It depends on too many factors. It depends on too many intangibles. It doesn’t work the way everyone would like it to. Do you explain this to people or do you just say “I’m okay” or “I’m getting there” and hope they’re not really paying attention?

All of these are daily realities for far too many people. Good, caring people. People I wish I could help. But I can’t. They live with chronic pain and chronic illness every day. And every day they deal with the same problems I am going through. Problems intrinsically tied to their diseases and yet in no way symptomatic of them.

Health privilege is a real thing and one you only realise you had once it’s gone. I have lived with autoimmune disease my whole life but never realised how healthy and lucky I was until I became properly ill. Friends have explained to me the constant social effects of their illness. People have blogged about it and created energy-allocation theories to explain the day-to-day impacts. But I couldn’t understand until I had lived it.

I look at the world through different eyes now. I don’t assume that distracted and meandering person in the fruit and vege shop is away with the fairies. Maybe they have a kidney stone too. Maybe they have fibromylagia or ankylosing spondilitis. Maybe they have lupus. Or cancer. Maybe their dog just died. Maybe their child has chronic illness. There are too many reasons they may be behaving the way they are and mine is not to judge them or be frustrated by them. Mine is to be understanding and empathetic, the way I hope others are when they encounter me.

All too often we rush through our daily lives without stopping to think about the stories and journeys of those around us. Perhaps if we did, even just once a day, the world would be a warmer and more compassionate place.



50 Shades of Inappropriate Marketing

Trigger warning: Domestic abuse and partner violence. Be wary of the external links in particular.

50 Shades of Grey. It’s a thing. It’s not going anywhere and we have all accepted this. Recently, due to the release of the film adaptation, the books and characters found themselves in the spotlight again.

It’s not news to anyone that 50 Shades is widely believed to depict an incredibly unhealthy, even abusive, relationship. Although claims have been made that the book simply depicts BDSM, and not emotional abuse, many beg to differ.

I’m not here to wade in on the arguments about the content and themes of the books and movie. That has been done by others more eloquent than me and in a better place to judge, as depicted in the links above. What I am concerned about is that businesses are trying to tap into the 50 Shades hysteria as a marketing tool while ignoring the problematic messages it sends their customers.

Domestic violence is a big problem in New Zealand. The NZ Women’s Refuge estimates that they help a woman in an abusive relationship every 6 minutes via their phone line alone. One in three Kiwi women will experience partner abuse at some point in their lives and fourteen women will be killed this year alone by a member of their own family. The statistics are horrifying and the realities for many Kiwi women are inescapable. I, and many others I know, have been abused by people we have trusted during our lives. The effects are long lasting and hugely damaging.

Given the public backlash to 50 Shades, whether you agree with the assessments or not, it seems unfathomable that any brand not directly involved with the movie or books would align themselves with its image. And yet that is exactly what at least one Kiwi brand has done this week. A well-meaning but ultimately ill-thought out marketing campaign was launched encouraging women to treat themselves well. It was front-run by a fake social media account pretending to be Christian Grey.

You don’t have to have read the books or have seen the movie to see the problems that inherently come from conflating Christian Grey’s public image with the treatment of women. Whether you are a fan of the series, whether you agree with the varying assessments of the abuse depicted, it doesn’t make sense for any brand to align themselves with such a polarising and potentially damaging phenomenon. Reputation is key in the world we live in; to market using such a divisive tool opens you up for a multitude of reputational and communication problems. And to make matters worse, the marketing ploy was integrated with an online dating application.

Putting aside that the campaign will have breached the terms of use of both Facebook and the dating application involved, it raises the issue of correlating online dating with abusive partners in a world already concerned about the ease with which dating apps can be turned into hunting grounds for abusive individuals.

Given all of these factors it staggers me that the campaign made it off the ground. Surely someone in the team at some point stopped and asked if it was really such a good idea?

The brand involved was contacted by several people via social media but maintained that their intent was to flip the paradigm on its head. It remains to be seen whether the campaign will be pulled; either way, it seems Kiwi women, and men, aren’t done pushing back on the inherent sexism and poor thought that creeps into our mass marketing.

 

Edit: At the time of writing this the brand concerned had taken their social media account offline. It’s my view that by removing themselves from the conversation they have failed to address the serious concerns their consumers have about their marketing campaign. Hopefully they will be back and better prepared for the discussions in the coming weeks.



Tindr vs. the Truth

Today a friend shared with me a video of a social experiment designed to test how different sexes respond to finding they’ve been lied to on a dating website. In both videos, a slim actor/actress was dressed in a fat suit and sent to meet a bunch of Tindr matches who had agreed to meet them based on attractive photos.

Watch the way the men reacted here and the women here.

Obviously, I have been in this situation before – as documented in a previous post. I didn’t leave immediately but I certainly didn’t hang around long. It was less the physical appearance and more that I had been lied to. Admittedly, in my case the guy I met used a photo of a completely different person – it wasn’t just weight gain.

So what do you think? How much blurring of the truth is acceptable in online dating? How would you react if this happened to you?



I care about my weight

I know this post may be a little controversial but it’s something I’ve been thinking about for a while. I know so many people who are happy and healthy in their own skin, no matter their size or circumstances. I love those people. I applaud those people. I am not one of those people. I believe everyone has the right to do or be what they choose. And I choose not to be fat and unhealthy anymore. I choose to improve my circumstances.

 

***

 

I care about my weight.

I care that I can’t tie my own shoes.

I care that I can’t sit down comfortably when I’m wearing pants.

I care that my bottom no longer fits properly in most café or public transport chairs.

I care about my self-esteem.

I care that people don’t pay attention to me.

I care that I live in a society where any of this even matters.

I care about the glazed look some people get in their eyes when they talk to me.

I care that I don’t get catcalled.

I care that I care about being catcalled.

I care that my opinion of myself has sunk so low.

I care that all of this makes me feel I am not worthy of even the lowest form or male-female attention.

I care that I can’t walk up stairs.

I care that I can’t walk along the beach.

I care that I have to make excuses when people invite me to “active” events.

I care that the thought of having to keep up with someone while walking up hill terrifies me.

I care about my body.

I care about my health.

I care about my self-image.

I care that I let myself become so unfit and unhealthy.

I care about my future.

I care that heart disease runs in my family.

I care that I feel like I may spend my life alone.

I care that I may one day be too unwell to run around with my own children.

I care about my weight.