You Deserve Better Than Adam Sackler

By Meg Zulch

 

Every cultural narrative about dating in recent years seems to go the same way. Girl meets boy. Girl has drunk sex with boy. Sometimes, girl has more casual and sometimes non consensual encounters with boy. Girl feels sad and maybe even violated. Rinse and repeat. And then, girl finally meets the guy/girl/person of their dreams. This is "normal," and apparently all part of being a young feminine person in our society.

Besides these narratives being whitewashed, heteronormative, and cisnormative, they perpetuate the idea that sexual discomfort and assault is just one of the many facts of life, and feminine people might as well embrace it. And if you stick with a toxic relationship long enough, hey, it might only get better!

Lena Dunham's Girls, one of my most problematic faves, perfectly exemplifies this in Hannah Horvath's relationship with Adam Sackler. In the show's first season, their relationship involved lots of sex that didn't always seem consensual or respectful of Hannah's body and needs. She barely ever climaxes when having sex with Adam, endures dirty talk that makes her uncomfortable, and contorts in any position that Adam wants. Her character is clearly terribly unsatisfied, and finally confronts him about this in episode four before quickly succumbing once again to Adam's "charm." What's worse is that Hannah keeps pushing on until things get serious, and gradually things do get better. In fact, their relationship becomes one of my favorite in TV history. And that's just fucked up.

Other shows like Skins or even The Secret Life Of the American Teenager also helped in shoving this down the throat of every young feminine adult: men will treat you like shit (especially when you're a virgin) and that's okay. Things will get better.

The idea that sexual assault or general discomfort is just apart of hookup culture, and the idea that you can somehow transform a toxic relationship (or person) into a healthy one if you work hard enough can be framed as simply a plot point of a show like Girls. But these relationship patterns being played out before our very eyes week after week can send damaging messages that are internalized and applied to real life. I speak from experience.

A year after Dunham's show aired, I transferred from my community college to a state university and experienced my first taste of freedom complete with sexual escapades worthy of national screen time. I had never been in a relationship, and so the only knowledge I had of them came from various forms of popular media. In the spirit of other fictional ladies before me (of course, not just blaming Girls for this), I quite literally dove head first into the wonderful world of hookup culture.

I met Mike during the first week of school, and we quickly became lovers. It was the first time I'd ever experienced sexual intimacy with a boy. I embraced my own intense self loathing and over indulged in my cinematic desperation for a man's approval. My powerlessness resulted in a two or three month entanglement of confusion, mistreatment, and total discomfort and lack of respect concerning myself in the bedroom, as well as heartbreak.

Like Hannah did with Adam, I stuck around, convinced this dynamic would change if I could "fix" him. I told myself it's natural to feel shitty and depressed and insecure and even a little loathing of my situation. So I stayed with him: long after he acted inappropriately while drunk, long after he hurt me during sex, long after he rejected me when I tried to make us "official."

But unlike Hannah, I have nothing to show for it. He was cruel to me, and I was involved in something that was sucking the life out of me, so I quit. But not for very long. I quickly began moving from person to person and repeating my mistakes, until I was sexually assaulted by a boy I had been in a similarly damaging relationship with. And until recently, I thought that was okay; all apart of the "young millennial girl in the dating world" narrative.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with having complete agency over your sexual body, and exploring it through hooking up with other empowered and consenting adults. But unfortunately, the idea that this process is supposed to be painful and weird, at least in the beginning, is where the problem lies. Self-respect isn't something you earn from the abuse of others, nor is it something you need to earn the right to have. We are all entitled to respect (from ourselves and our partners), regardless of our experience level and identities. When we are taught that being disrespected sexually is commonplace for our age group, we become less likely to take our own assaults seriously and allow others to control our narratives.

I revisited season one of Girls the other day. My loving partner of ten months has recently gotten hooked on the show, and so we've been marathoning it on nights when our schedules align. I was shocked to see how unsettling this season is to me, as I can't help but see Mike in almost every scene involving Adam and Hannah. It's been horrifying to see their relationship with fresh eyes, and to realize that I used to view this toxic dynamic as "just a part of life." A "fact" I went on to reenact in my own life less than a year later. I was convinced that enduring bad relationships and abuse was necessary for self discovery, and to develop a healthy self image was totally unnecessary concerning dating. I now know these "facts" to be untrue, that abuse is abuse, and that absence of self respect can lead you to downplay your own traumas. Exactly how society and the media we consume teaches feminine people to react.

Yes, I did meet a wonderful person, the human I'm currently partnered with. But they haven't previously treated me like shit (or currently), and my traumatic experiences have impacted our relationship. Only recently have I come to terms with my assault, and have stopped writing it off as "normal," "no big deal," or "all my fault." Because even if you're inexperienced or marginalized, you don't ever deserve disrespect in any form.

Women being disrespected and abused, as well as searching for ways to develop self respect in the wrong places, is certainly a reality to many. But perhaps if TV shows, YA novels and movies wouldn't replay this narrative over and over, girls will finally start growing up knowing that they don't need to waste their time with an Adam.

Photo courtesy of HBO

There’s Beauty In Originality, Hollywood.

By Joe Longo

 

This is a big week for Hollywood. It is the unofficial start of “awards season” with the Toronto International Film Festival kicking off today and the Venice Film Festival continuing through September 12th. With this comes an onslaught of actors, directors and producers tirelessly pushing their respective films in hopes of finding a distributor. And these same actors gearing up for a heavy push to garner an Academy Award nomination for their nuanced performances. Matthew McConaughey strolled the Toronto red carpet in 2013 for Dallas Buyer’s Club, and Colin Firth did the same for The King’s Speech in 2010. Both actors portrayed real life characters and eventually won Best Actor Academy Awards for their performances. This pattern has frequented red carpets and film festivals in recent years as the mainstay to receive critical acclaim. Yet what has resulted is a concerning trend in which uniqueness and originality is replaced with redundancy and safety. Hollywood has lost its creativity.

Seven of the past eleven Best Actor Academy Award recipients have won for their portrayals of real men. Of the remaining four, Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart, Daniel Day Lewis in Three Will Be Blood, and Forest Whitaker in The Last King of Scotland play fictional characters based loosely on actual people and events. The remaining completely original character actor is that Jean Dujardin in The Artist . While certainly not downplaying the intensity and credibility of these performances, there is a clear lack of original charactership. The academy (or movie studios depending on who one points blame) are in a rut and praise what is predictable and known. This year at the Toronto Film Festival alone Johnny Depp in Black Mass, Tom Hiddleston in I Saw The Light, Tom Hardy in Legend, Billy Bob Thornton in Our Brand is Crisis, Ben Foster in The Program, Michael Keaton in Spotlight, and Bryan Cranston in Trumbo all playing leading men in various biopics.

And then there is Oscar front runner The Danish Girl and the film’s leading man Eddie Redmayne. The Danish Girl, the retelling of the first transgender woman to undergo sexual reassignment surgery, stylistically echoes director Tom Hooper’s previous works Les Miserables and The King’s Speech. All three films are historical retellings of the lives of Europeans throughout various eras. Furthermore, Redmayne himself won last year’s Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of Stephen Hawking in another historical biopic, The Theory of Everything. Certainly, Redmayne excelled in portraying Hawking down to his subtle mannerisms--and might do so again as Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl--but this all reeks of familiarity. A template for acclaim has been set and followed repeatedly.

 Notably, this creativity crisis inflicts all of Hollywood with endless remakes of successful films of past decades and constant reboots of classic superhero characters. According to writer and producer Stephen Follows, none of the top ten grossing films of 2014 were original. “This number grows to 13.3% of the films which placed 11th or 25th on the annual box office chart for US gross. However, on the lower half of the annual 100 (i.e. films placed between 51st and 100th), over half were ‘truly original’,” Fellows said. He notes that while original filmmaking is rampant in lesser known movies, big budget Hollywood is afraid to embrace such creativity. “In 2005, almost a quarter of the money spent on the top 10 grossing films went to ‘truly original’ movies,” Fellows said. “In both 2011 and 2012, this had dropped to just 7.8% of the box office gross and in both 2013 and 2014 it was 0%.”

While it can be justified that creativity no longer makes money and drives ticket sales, that does not mean the focus should be on established, understood storytelling. Interestingly, according to Hypable.com, the two biggest flops of the 2015 summer were regurgitated material. Tomorrowland, based loosely off of Walt Disney’s idea of a utopia and EPCOT, has an expected loss of $120 million-$150 million. Coming in second was the much plagued Fantastic Four reboot expecting to lose $80 million-$100 million. So maybe the already understood isn’t known to succeed. The filmmakers of the upcoming the 2017 reboot of Spider-man, the third reimagining in a fifteen year span for the web-slinging superhero, should take note.

While it is important to depict a variety of stories in films, including historical events and persons, creativity has been sacrificed for commerce. The filmmaking process, and the academies that award their work, should champion originality. Let go of the mundane, repetitive storytelling and embrace the beauty of newness. Afterall all these reboots and retelling were once fresh and unique stories.

 

(A Different Kind of) Fighting Hunger

By Anna Brüner

Photo by Linsey Borgna

Photo by Linsey Borgna

I had a cheeseburger for dinner tonight. Not a rare occurrence by far. Americans consume 50 billion cheeseburgers a year, and just like any proud American, the greasy little buggers hold a powerful place in my heart (both metaphorically, as well as literally in my arteries). As I savored my meal over the clinking of beer bottles and the buzzing chatter of old friends, however, I still could not totally drown out a decade’s internal narrative that remains ever-present in the back of my mind like some fucked up, killjoy vigilante of the psyche. 

It was the last day of summer, I was at a great restaurant surrounded by friends I love after a day at the beach, and all I could focus on was the mental deconstruction of my quarter-pounder. A quarter pound of meat alone. A 120 calorie slice of cheese. One fried egg = 70 calories. The bun is surely no less than 300 calories. Allow 30-100extra calories of leeway, considering how much butter was used to cook this. Then there’s the three slices of bacon, plus three beers…it only spiraled faster from there. A mental checklist a mile long, and I was ticking off all the boxes simultaneously, as routinely as most people take notice of the temperature in the room. My burger was no longer a meal, but a series of numbers. It’s not something I ever have to think about doing, even though I think about it all the time

All in all, in one meal, I consumed at least 1500 calories. This would have never happened three years ago, when I was eating around 250 calories a day…if I ate at all. 

Though since starting college I have become notorious for my cooking exploits, my love of red meat and fried appetizers, and my intimate relationship with a well crafted margarita, I am still plagued every day by an eating disorder that consumed every moment of my life for six years. While it has been three years since I have weighed myself, a year since I stopped looking at clothing sizes while shopping, and 9 months since forcing myself to throw up, very little has actually changed about my relationship with food and with my body. I still body check dozens of times before leaving my home, and dozens more throughout my day. I still wrap my hands around my thigh, using where my thumbs fall against my tattoo of Ganesh as a mental note of how much size I take up, and never once think about the irony that I got this tattoo as a testament to my “recovery.” I still exhale all of my air just so I can suck my stomach in and feel how tight the skin wraps around my ribs…my most noticeable habit, and the first one friends in Chicago have ever picked up on. Sometimes still, while I am ashamed to admit it, I will cry after meals because I hate the feeling of being “full.” 

I tell people my eating disorder started when I was twelve, but it was probably earlier than that. I went through puberty incredibly young, left Catholic school and started public school just as my father was diagnosed with cancer, had almost no friends, and was staying at a different relative’s house week to week for a summer. When I did start school and make friends, they were thin and pretty and popular. I was fat and funny. Add in the usual insecurities of adolescence, burgeoning depression and anxiety, and the fact that middle schoolers are literally the worst people on the planet, and I had a perfect storm of chaos that was craving for structure.

I won’t go into my entire disorder, as that would take far too long and that’s not what this is about anyway, but to sum it up bluntly: I stopped eating. I dropped from 150 lbs. to 115. People noticed. I liked that people noticed me, and that my intake of food (or lack there of) offered me the one sense of control I had. The feeling of emptiness was addictive. I would weight myself hundreds of times a day just to watch the ounces fluctuate. At my lowest, I weighed 92 pounds. When my hair started falling out, I was almost happy about it.

I tried several times to get help. I went to therapy, rehab, saw dietitians, made meal plans, and even became vegan at one point because I thought it would help me develop a healthier relationship with food. I would exercise and I try to build muscle, would run three miles a day, and found every excuse to bake or cook for friends. It wouldn’t take long, however, for me to stop listening to my therapist, for me to drop the meal plans, for the exercise to become as excessive and obsessive as the feeling of emptiness, and for me to give away entire cakes without ever tasting a single bite. Every solution I found would ultimately fail in a matter of months, and I would land straight back in the regimen of my rituals, perpetually cold, weak, tired, and unsatisfied. 

Then one day in April of 2012, during the final weeks of my senior year of high school, I caught a documentary on TV about eating disorders. It was one of those A&E specials, nothing particularly high brow, but it followed different people around in getting treatment for their disorders. One woman was fifty years old and talking about her bulimia, which developed when she was a teenager, and something inside me clicked,“I don’t want to do this for the rest of my life.”  As engrossing as my disorder was, part of the sense of control I found was in thinking it would eventually just go away if I ever wanted it to. The concept of living my life in constant fear of my own body, the paranoia never stopping, always sick and aching and hungry terrified me. 

On April 7, 2012, I threw away my scale. I no longer check calories on menus. I ask doctors not to tell me my weight when I go in for checkups. If my clothing feels tighter than usual, I change outfits. I try not to dwell on any of it for too long. It isn’t easy by far, but I know it is rarely even this easy for most people. I know everyone is different, and their disorders are different. When therapy and rehab didn’t work for me, I took it upon myself to make a change because I didn’t want to go to college and still be running to the bathroom after every meal or breaking down because I gained half a pound. For so many years, I identified as “Anna, the anorexic” or “Anna, the bulimic,” and while I think it’s important to openly discuss my eating disorder with whoever will listen, I do not want it to ever become my identity. I have spent far too much of my life thinking of myself as a sickness. 

Last year I was interviewed for a book about ED recovery and the final question I was asked was “Do you consider yourself recovered?” I was shocked when I said “No.” But, I am better. I don’t think I ever will be recovered, per say, but I can always be better. I openly talk with friends and their mothers about their own eating disorders and insecurities. I make efforts to eat and exercise healthily. I no longer vocalize my criticism of my body. I try every day to lessen the internal narration, the numbers, the ritualization, the self hate, bit by bit. I meditate. I write. I eat cheeseburgers. I fight. Maybe the will to fight is all recovery really is. 

 

 

 

 

 

The Art of Losing Your (Almost) Lover

By Jac Morrison

If the word "fickle" was personified, I am almost entirely sure it would materialize itself as me. I fall in love as suddenly as the wind changes direction. It takes very little for my imagination to launch itself into daydreams about a lustful future with whichever human might have laid their gentle hands on me the night before. I am a textbook romantic. There is no way around that fact. Being this way has taken me on many a happy escapade -- long nights spent thinking "I'm going to remember this for the rest of my life". The sort of lustful grand adventures fit only for a Peter Sollet film.

Of course, loving so freely often means losing those lovers just as quickly as they came. I am no stranger to scarfing down loaves of cookie dough in my candlelit bedroom while listening to A Fine Frenzy on repeat. Tortured and hopeless, scrolling through their social media accounts wondering if that last Bright Eyes lyric they captioned their latest selfie with was related to me (it wasn't). In fact, it has happened so dreadfully often that I have created a three step guideline as to how to overcome the phenomena that is losing someone that was never really yours to begin with.I call it "The Art of Losing Your Almost Lover".

Step One: Stop

Often times when a human (no matter how small an appearance they made in your life) leaves abruptly you find yourself in a panic. Anxious questions surge through your head as if you were frantically flipping channels on a television. What did I do wrong? Did I come off too strong? Was I too loud? Too quiet? Was I too passionate? Was I not passionate enough? The trick to quieting your worried mind is simply, stop. Breathe. Listen to your lungs process oxygen. Close your eyes. Be in this moment, be present in the space you are in. The world is not ending, your body is intact. There is nothing inherently dangerous about this loss, despite its immediate pain. You are okay, you will be okay.

 

Step Two: Let Go

This is often the hardest part, but I find it to be the most necessary. In order to heal over the loss of your almost lover, you need to forget them. I am not saying go full Clementine Kruczynski in Eternal Sunshine on their ass but you need to remove their existence from your immediate present, at least temporarily. Delete their texts from your phone. Unfollow their posts on Facebook. Put away the sweater they left on your bedpost. Stop listening to Keaton Henson's "10am Gare De Nord" on repeat. Put down the tubes of cookie dough. Turn off Garden State. Re-organize your life to what it was before they ever came around. Remind yourself there was a time before this lover, and there will be a time after.

 

Step Three: Love Yourself

Now, I know what you're thinking. "Oh, here it comes. The grand cliche of ~You Have To Love YourSELF Before You Can Love Anyone Else!!~ But that is absolutely not where I am going with this. I do not think there is a guideline to love that says you need to be fully comfortable in yourself to love another person. (Who really is fully comfortable in themselves anyways?) But I do think it is essential to at least try to love yourself after the loss of an almost lover. Because frankly, in the recoil of your failed romance, who else is going to? Tell yourself that the inability of another human to love you the way you expected absolutely does not reflect on your character. You are not unloveable because one human doesn't love you. So, in spite of your almost lover, be in love with yourself. Do the thing that you are best at, congratulate yourself on it. Take yourself out for gelato. Take long, steaming bubble baths. Dance around your living room to your favorite angry punk music. You are good. You are worthwhile. You are valuable. Tell yourself these things until they no longer register as words in your brain.

You are good. You are worthwhile. You are valuable.

Losing an almost lover is arguably just as difficult as losing a partner. Often it comes abrupt and unexpected; one minute you are dreaming of a blissful tomorrow and the next you are stumbling back trying to regain footing as if the floor had collapsed right out from under you. But just like any other tumble in life, you will stand back up. You will dust the melancholy remorse off your shoulders, and if you're anything like me -- it will not be long before you fall in love with someone else's gentle hands.