Beauty: a Tool of Control, but for Whom?

Beauty, as a quality, is a constant source of joy in our human experience. A life without beauty is a life without pleasure, but this article is not about beauty as a quality. It is about beauty as a tool, as a stereotype, as an ideal. About society’s destructive obsession for women to be the object of beauty; about the dangers of teaching women to appraise their appearance as their most valuable asset. I’m talking about the fictional tale of beauty. 

PART ONE: My Personal History with Beauty

I remember being about 13 years old. I had been living in Spain for seven years. Seven years in an all-girls Catholic school which was, by the way, funded by a pedophile priest named Marcial Maciel. Besides praying on dozens if not hundreds of little boys and girls, Marcial impregnated women around the world and was not held accountable until after his death. 

Growing up with two sisters and going to an all-girls school with nuns as my teachers meant that I was utterly oblivious to the male gaze for most of my childhood. Until the blossoming age of 13, when my best friend Daniela and I started going to underage clubs (discotecas light), a.k.a the cool places to go as a 13-year-old living in Madrid. We would dance, mingle, gossip, and blush at every boy that approached us. We had this game where we would part our separate ways to count the number of boys who asked us for a kiss. Then, we would meet and compare our scores. This is my first memory of feeling wanted by a boy -and wanting to feel wanted by a boy- even if he did not know me or my personality. It was also was my first encounter with the male-gaze. The first time I became conscious of the importance attributed to female beauty.

Moving from an all-girls Catholic school in Madrid to a mixed public school in Miami as a teenager radically transformed my socialization. My relationship with beauty and femininity took a drastic turn in this new, hyper-consumerist city where women are relentlessly objectified and hyper-sexualized.

With my boiling teenage hormones in this fresh, unknown territory, I began to desperately seek adult-like experiences in which I would feel beautiful and seen. It felt special, at first, when my first crush Ed called me pretty. But that specialness quickly disappeared as my childhood vanished away with it. By the age of 15, I was a rebel, and my looks were my weapon. Or so I thought. I used my appearance as a means to an end. My end was control – or anything I could get my hands on to make me feel I was in control. I understood that the more feminine I was, the more beautiful. And that femininity meant being nice, passive, always smile, and be grateful. It also meant putting a great deal of effort into my looks.

I was constantly reminded that beauty defined value in women. Unlike men – their virility and looks did not merely represent their worth. Everyone loves the funny, chubby guy. My life experiences hammered this social norm into my head every time I went out and about: with every free entry into a +21 club despite being underage because the bouncer saw some potential in me; with every “Ladies Night” that got girls to drink for free and boys to flock into the bar as if ladies were the free commodities in question; with every guy that invited me on a boat yet rejected someone else because their looks did not meet the required standards for a free boat ride; with the ridiculous party ratios of 10 hot girls for every 2 rich, mediocre guys.

I thought I was in control, but in reality, I was being reduced to the utmost superficial part of my humanness: my body. Unfortunately, I was complicit in this sexist exchange. While I thought I was smart and empowered because I got free things, men expected something in return. The free drink was not my prize for being a woman in control – it was a tool of control used against me. I was the prize. 

PART TWO: The Power Placebo in Beauty

Appearance is one of the few areas in which women feel they can exert some type of control over how they will be responded to. We feel powerful when we look good. But female physical appearance is also an essential tool used by patriarchal society to justify women’s dismissal as well as their harassment: On the one hand, it occurs much too often that women who do not fit into the beauty ideal are ignored, neglected, rejected, or compared to some cattle animal. On the other hand, it is common for sexual abusers to justify rape or harassment with the victim’s looks: her way of dressing, walking, wearing make-up, her reputation, and physical features are often used against her and in the harasser’s defense.

Ironically, women who are conventionally attractive also face severe social criticism. For instance, someone with large breasts might be called provocative or misunderstood as overly sexual simply because of the shape of the body she was born into. She might also be unable to wear particular clothing or to part-take in certain activities without cruel judgment based on her form. So you can see how beauty does not mean power or control. 

Selling Beauty as a Form of Power

Our hyper-consumerist society sells beauty as a form of power, as a currency for social acceptance and self-love, but we are being fooled. Even if one does acquire power through emulating the western archetype of beauty (to climb the career ladder, gain acceptance by a social group, or gain confidence in themselves), the division between women who fit into this ideal and women who do not increases. Outsiders might feel pressured into looking “like a million bucks” which results in the beauty industry actually gaining billions of dollars at the expense of self-hatred, social pressure, and exclusion. 

Buying the Beauty Ideal in Consumerist Culture

Western middle-class women in their role as consumers have been fundamental to the development of our industrial society. When the romantic vision of creating a family and buying a house in the suburbs was considered the sole model of a successful life, home products were sold to women under the pretext of homemaking as a higher calling. Today, the product in question is the beauty ideal, and the utilized narrative is a path for a better life, success, and self-acceptance. 

Numerous industries create capital out of our unconscious anxieties. The diet industry, cosmetics, pornography, plastic and cosmetic surgery, fashion, and media play a fundamental role in reproducing and enforcing the status-quo ideal and capitalizing off the pressure we feel. The results are undeniably concerning: child beauty pageants, unnecessary and extreme diets, sexist women magazines, rampant plastic surgery even amongst the poorest, horrifying eating disorders, restrictive clothing, the normalization of beauty as suffering, and buying beauty like our bodies were commodities to which we can add new features and discard old ones.

Plastic surgery is reasonably a delicate and controversial subject. I find the most troubling aspect to be the intellectualization and emotional distancing we have normalized with it. We view it as a commodity – as if our body was an alienated object one can buy, sell, modify, and upgrade. This alienation is a typical tactic in our consumerist society that thrives on making money off even the most intangible things in life such as love, identity, and morals. 

Is it our personal choice? Or is society, and more specifically the beauty industry, brainwashing us into thinking it is our personal choice? Every time we feel that we are not good enough, we must ask ourselves: Who benefits from our insecurities? Who is making money when we decide our nose is too big or our breasts are too small? The answer is simple: industries that profit off our self-hatred. Businesses create a problem -your not-enoughness- to sell a solution: the ideal body. With the help of mass media, these industries take money from our pockets as we attempt to buy our self-worth and self-acceptance. 

PART THREE: Reflections

I’m tired of seeking to attain beauty; of pursuing acceptance from the outside world for the most superficial part of my existence; of being the target of some marketing plot to push me into buying things I don’t need; of random men on the street acting as the divine authority over female beauty; of women unrealistically distorting their bodies negatively, while unattractive men walk around with their heads held up real high. I am now on a path to love my body and judge it less. Embracing the hairiness inherited from my Colombian ancestors, my bushy eyebrows and long lashes, and all the hairy corners of my vessel that shall not be named. But most importantly, I am done with feeling forced to adapt to the consumerist demands of our society. Of course, there are days in which I feel the need to wear make-up or catch a compliment to feel good about myself, but hey, I’m only human.

I am in no way, shape, or form calling for women to dress more modestly, throw out their make-up, or feel ashamed about their views and decisions. Anyone should be able to live the life they strive to live in the body they wish to inhabit. This article is a mere reminder to push away from the trend that places self-value in physical appearance. When we value looks above all else, not only do we help these massive industries multiply their profit as women and girls learn to hate their bodies, but we are also complicit in the male view of women as objects. There is a fine line between appreciating our bodies and sexuality as a form of self-love and feeling the need to look beautiful for the male gaze, for social acceptance, or a sense of approval. We must reject the notion of physical attractiveness in a woman as the ultimate quality and remember that appearance is lost with age. The body will wrinkle, but the brain will not. 

Lastly, for better and for worse, times are changing. Beauty ideals are no longer an exclusively female issue. The praise of appearance over other properties is now inclining towards people of all sorts, genders, classes, ages, and nationalities. Social media outlets such as Instagram contribute to this growing societal pressure by acting as the perfect mass-disseminating tool to spread and multiply millions of images of the dominating ideal. The flip side is that these outlets also represent an opportunity for people to re-define what beauty means to them by spreading their own images and beliefs. Increasingly blurred gender lines and new make-up trends are placing drag queens and androgenous models at the top of the beauty industry, and cis-women are no longer the sole target market for it. This is excellent news indeed. All sorts of people are taking up space and transforming this clique-like industry, opening a celebration of beauty in all its diversity. Now it is up to us to embrace our human bodies in all their wholeness and reject the western archetype of beauty that is shoved into our faces on a daily basis by mass media and consumerist culture. 

Patriarchy is…

Patriarchy is a room full of men making laws about female bodies. It is a judge that blames victims of sexual abuse for wearing short skirts, being too drunk, or too weak. Patriarchy is a group of young men attempting to perform alpha masculinity by raping intoxicated girls in front of each other.

Patriarchy is God portrayed as a man. It is the promise and love of virgins by God in all religions. Patriarchy is the normalization of girls getting pulled out of school when reaching puberty to become good wives. It is widespread child marriage in Asia and Africa. 

Patriarchy is baby girls getting their clitoris cut off as a form of purification. It is a father murdering his daughter for engaging in “sexually immoral” actions and naming it Honor Killing. Patriarchy is polygamous relationships within Muslim communities that treat women as devices to carry out their chores. It is the police killing and raping of prostitutes in Brazil, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic. Patriarchy is the sexual abuse of women and girls as a war tactic. Patriarchy is war. 

Patriarchy is politics as an ends instead of a means to improve lives. It is a planetary crisis that chooses to prioritize capital over the well-being of our home. Patriarchy is the disregard of human suffering and connection because rationality triumphs over emotion and intuition. It is a hierarchical system that decides who is worthy to sit comfortably at the top and who lays at the bottom condemned to a lifetime of suffocation.

But Woman, like a forest that has been depleted of its best trees, seeks to grow again, reclaim her space, and right to flourish. And this time, Woman is not alone in the fight against Patriarchy – all the wildlife is on her side. 

Coronavirus: a Blessing for Billionaires

During the COVID pandemic, essential workers have been given a metaphorical pat on the back as CEOs, politicians, and celebrities call them heroes and send them off to war, giving them no other option to working but to get laid off or evicted. Though they tend to work in food, farming, and healthcare, many are those who the speedy world of instant shopping so desperately depends on – laborers in warehouses, packaging, and deliveries. The sentiment of deep appreciation towards the labor of everyday people caring for others in the middle of a crisis is fair and reasonable, but the hero narrative can be used as a distractive and manipulative discourse when performed by the powerful elites. While workers get cheered on for saving the economy, it is the one percent that gets richer.

The coronavirus outbreak has been a true blessing for billionaires. In the meantime, unemployment, eviction, debt, and death spike amongst commoners, with black and brown people disproportionately affected. Workers are operating under hazardous conditions and they are hardly protected by their employers – laboring for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the masses.

American billionaires gained over $1.1 trillion during the pandemic. 

Jeff Bezos has grown his fortune by 75.6 billion dollars since March 2020, amounting his wealth to $182.4 billion. The magnitude of such amounts of money is difficult to apprehend, so let’s look at these numbers from a different perspective: the total amount of COVID pay to one million Amazon workers is $1.8 billion. Did Bezos actually work 42 times harder than a million workers combined? 

If Bezos were to give each of his Amazon workers a $75,000 bonus, he would still be richer than he was when the pandemic started.

Elon Musk’s fortune surged over 414 percent during the pandemic, reaching 185 billion dollars and making him the second richest man in the world. Bill Gates, Marck Zuckerberg, and the Walmart family are additional examples of excessively wealthy people who have benefited from the pandemic. Nevertheless, I chose the topmost billionaires for the purpose of comparing and contextualizing figures. 

The figure below shows the growth experienced by American billionaire wealth from March 18th until November 24, 2020. Consider this wealth to keep growing.

Are billionaires doing great things for the advancement of society? Sure. Most are philanthropists who largely contribute to charity and science and are still bathing in gold after donations and tax evasions. But is it morally correct for anyone in this world to have that kind of money when over 700 million people (nearly 10% of the world population) live in extreme poverty and struggle to fulfill basic needs like health, education, and access to water and sanitation? I don’t think so.

Let’s look at these numbers from a different angle. The United Nations estimates the cost to end world hunger by 2030, the primary cause of death, to be that of $30 billion a year.

Though I am no economist, I am quite sure $1.1 trillion, the sole amount of money made by American billionaires in the past year, would suffice to end world hunger and keep the rich in their glorious positions of power. 

Capitalism does a great job in increasing productivity in order to enlarge the economic pie, but capitalists aren’t great when dividing the economic pie equally. The system we live in produces large wealth and opportunity gaps, resulting in some very successful people eating most of the pie and a whole bunch of people dying from hunger.

Here’s another perspective: the United States spent 738 billion dollars on defense in 2020. What if instead of approaching security and defense issues with weapons, military bases, and involvement in foreign regime changes, the U.S channeled that energy and money into saving lives?

The chart below shows the significance of the U.S military budget exceeding the total amount spent by the next ten countries with the highest military spending combined.

In my opinion, the misallocation of government resources is inextricably linked to the existence of people with this kind of money. After all, money makes the world go round. Billionaires have the full capacity and power to make the government serve their interests, and as we see now, even more so during a crisis.

The fact that billionaires benefit immensely from crises is nothing new. This makes sense for two main palpable reasons, firstly, government gives more aid to banks and corporations, so when the stock-market bounces back, the unequal bailouts result in the wealthy being way ahead of everyone else. Secondly, wealth-friendly tax laws and loopholes keep rich people at the top. It’s a true love story between the government and the rich.

Our rigged economic model leads to a massive concentration of wealth amongst a few people, which results in an aggravation of various types of inequality in all branches of society. The coronavirus outbreak has revealed the ugliest and most genuine side of this system, in which the world’s largest corporations make billions at the expense of low-wage workers who are at risk every day, in every way. These corporations funnel profits to shareholders and billionaires, a small group of white men in rich nations who refuse to let their greed go.

The following image is from the September 2020 Oxfam report: Power, Profits and the Pandemic.

So what can we do? For starters, we can purchase from local businesses instead of massive online retailers such as Amazon. Rather than funding billionaires, we can support everyday people and entrepreneurs. We can push the government to reallocate resources and demand the rich to pay their fair share. We can inform our peers, especially those who blindly relate to billionaires rather than sympathizing with 99% of the world. But unfortunately, this is all too idealistic. We have a deep, structural issue that needs to be tackled from its roots. And we, the commoners, have very little power. Yes, even you, with a father that makes 100,000 a year. We have more in common than you do with billionaires. What if we stopped supporting billionaires because they worked for it, and instead refused to allow people to accumulate billions of dollars?

Black History is Everyone’s History

The educational system, particularly in the United States, loves to boast about the success of democracy, the rise of capitalism, and freedom in the western world. Ideologically indoctrinated from a very early age, we are lead to believe the U.S.A is this unique land of the free and home of the brave where anyone and everyone can achieve success and that success equates to money. But an imperative yet uncomfortable conversation is often evaded, the truth behind America’s development. Like most if not all colonial powers, the U.S.A was built on the grounds of a brutal genocide of indigenous people, a massive trans-Atlantic trade of African people, and their enslavement for centuries. When the need for a free labor force to build up the economy was no longer crucial, black people were lynched, segregated, surveilled, chased down, and legally murdered under the pretext of keeping law and order in society. 

Our criminal justice system, particularly the prison industrial complex and police state, is rooted in the same oppressive system responsible for the genocide of Native Americans, for stealing people from Africa as disposable commodities, and later on, segregated blacks and whites in the name of justice and the rights of whites.

The alteration of the same, handed-down oppressive system becomes apparent when, for example, looking at the crack epidemic, police brutality, and even with the events that took place on January 6th. How did those people truly break-in? Was the police department not “equipped” enough? Number one in police brutality but unable to prevent white Trump-loving conspiracists from entering what should be one of the most guarded buildings in America? What would have happened if the people raiding the Capitol were black? 

Foreign involvement also played a significant role in the development and enrichment of the country. The damage made overseas has been colossal, whether through governmental or non-governmental institutions such as religious establishments or massive corporations: the transmutation of land, its fruits and minerals; the abuse of human lives, their labor and consumption force; and overall, the exploitation of natural resources and human resources. Depending on the territory and geopolitical location, lands and peoples were assigned specific roles and functions to serve the United States’ development. This strategical role assignation was a typical colonial practice, substantially instituted through massive neoliberal corporations. 

Although I am no expert on the subject, I strongly believe we must all gain social and political awareness and continuously learn about history. I invite you to check out the resources available at the bottom of this page to gain knowledge on essential concepts such as the prison industrial complex, the police state and police origins in its colonial context. Learn about bright minds and key actors in the struggle for racial justice such as Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, Angela Davis, Frantz Fanon, Richard Wright, and James Baldwin.

To better understand our present, we must inform ourselves of the past. After all, James Baldwin said it best:

“History is not the past. It is the present. We carry our history with us. We are our history. If we pretend otherwise, we literally are criminals”.

Learning Resources

Reading

Unity and Struggle’s Google Doc Reading List: a study of race through the lens of Marxist historical and dialectical materialism.

Listening

Rev Left Radio Podcast Episodes

Reveal Podcast Episodes

Red Menace

Watching

I Am Not Your Negro – available on Amazon Prime

13th – available on Netflix and on Youtube!

What I Should Have Said

You know those encounters that leave you thinking for days of what you should have said or done but didn’t?

Well, I recently reconnected with some childhood friends and met some of their new friends. Not the good kind, but the kind that is so feeble-minded and detached from reality that makes you wonder whether you even exist in the same dimension. I was shocked at the amount of overtly sexist comments thrown at me, not by old men solely faithful to their regressive cultural traditions, but by young men my age with university degrees, expensive clothes, and rich parents: the future businessmen and politicians who will hold the power positions that reshape our society. I want to address some of the alarming comments that were made as a way to vent and get closure by writing down what I should have said but was unable to. 

The “You Women Only Read Self-Help Books ” card

As I was talking about an interesting fact I read in a book, some guy laughed at me hysterically, convinced I was a phony. “You women only read self-help books” he affirmed with a big condescending grin on his face. My jaw dropped wide open, but I tried to keep my rational and non-threatening posture, trying not to make any sudden movements to avoid the risk of him pulling out the “you women are too sensitive” card. I responded: “that’s not true”. And he immediately tested me, demanding I name the last book I had read. I answered: “l’Étranger, d’Albert Camus“. He was instantly impressed by my French accent as well as the renowned title I spoke of, certainly not the pink-covered-how-to-be-a-better-person shit book he expected. He started to talk to me in French, once again testing my integrity or competence or quality or my je-ne-sais-quoi to measure my honesty and worth, with the same assertive and patronizing attitude, only this time, he pulled that self-confidence out of nowhere. Poor guy must have had an A1.1 French level – on a good day. 

The truth is that l’Étranger was not the last book I had read – I had read at least three books ever since, the last one being Mujeres del Alma mía: a feminist memoir by Isabel Allende. I am not sure why I lied to the guy. Maybe I didn’t want to scare him away with my feminist literature, fearing to be called a feminazi once again. Maybe, my internalized machismo pushed me to name a classic novel with a celebrated male author of whom everyone speaks wonders so that I could feel proud and respected. A foreign yet universal book that would allow me to prove my intellectual capacity and let me utter some French words to attest my fluidity in the third language I mastered. A casual testimony to my worth. Proof that I am worth more than what he thinks. I am more than just a pretty face who reads self-help books. WE are more. We are not just pretty faces with empty brains and disposable bodies. We have opinions. We have a voice. We are complex. We are all different.

But I – I am not going to let the stereotype of a submissive brainless pretty woman prevail in the collective mind of this so-called-progressive generation. 

The “Pretty Girls don’t Have a Brain” card

My frustrating conversation with this unfortunate human being did not last very long since I promised myself I wouldn’t get angry. After all, I was there to have fun, not to debate. I had to turn around and dance with the happy people, reminding myself that it was just a “party”: or as much of a party as it can be within the legal framework during times of pandemic. I danced for a little, but either incredibly absurd or enriching conversations kept pulling me in. I was unable to ignore the topics that were being thrown around within my hearing range: abortion, religion, the right to vote. I will not revisit these drunk conversations in-depth, but I will say that these young men were in absolute awe every time I spouted my strong yet rational opinions, or as I like to call it, my thought vomit. 

I hated to see the boys on one side, ranting about crucial matters with their terrifying opinions, and on the other side, the girls carelessly dancing and ignoring the atrocities that were being said. Why can’t we all just go to the men’s table instead of staying on the sidelines looking good? And why is it that so many men believe that pretty women are dumb? Thirsty men frequently approach us trying to teach something and show off like a peacock in distress. It is too often that we stay quiet to avoid scaring them away. But I’m trying to make sure they realize I am not one to passively sit there, swallowing their monologue like it were some kind of divine truth. I will, confidently, slap that bible closed and call it as it is: fiction

The “Women are too Sensitive” card

The most absurd comment of the night was, by far, “women should not be able to vote because they are too sensitive”. I am pretty sure I started yelling at that point, which, in their perspective, was evidence to support their statement. The obvious truth is that all people are different: I’ve had boyfriends who were much more emotional than I was, boyfriends who were not capable of expressing their feelings, girlfriends who are as cold as ice, and girlfriends who cry every goddamn time the dog dies in the movie, such as myself. However, if we do accept the “it’s human nature” line of thinking, stating that most men are rational and most women are sensitive, then I would say that it is all the more important that women get to vote and get involved in politics. 

According to the Cambridge dictionary, sensitivity is the ability to understand what other people need and be helpful and kind to them. In my humble opinion, if women controlled the political sphere, there would be fewer wars, fewer deaths, and less inequality. Funds would be redirected from guns and bombs, weapons and wars, big trades and buildings, and other manly men stuff – to children, universal education, healthy and affordable food, human dignity, culture, and community. 

As a relevant example, I’ll share an interesting anecdote from when I lived in New Caledonia: Low-income families were receiving government credits, and the person in charge of handling the money was the designated head of the household, being in most cases the man of the house. The issue they found was that an overwhelming majority of men were spending all the money on booze and lottery games instead of their children’s education, food, and a proper roof to sleep under. The solution? Easy. They gave the money to the woman of the household, and it worked. Women started making savings and spending the money on their children’s education, books, clothes, improving their homes, diets, and overall quality of life. 

If women held the highest decision-making power positions, maybe we wouldn’t be wasting our tax-payer money on the harmful policies and deals that are destroying our planet. Call it sensitivity if you may, but in my opinion, if we cry for injustice and feel pain and empathy more than men do, then our mentalities are more adequate for voting than the “rational” way of thinking that leads us to bomb other countries with our penis-looking machines. 

Book Review: The Vagina Monologues by Eve Ensler

The Vagina Monologues: an easy read and a must-read, whether you own a vagina or not. 9/10.

This play was written by Eve Ensler in 1996 and performed in over 140 countries. It deals with topics that women tend to shy away from talking about to even their closest ones. As you flip through the pages, you will go through a journey of emotions wanting to laugh out loud, scream from anger, and throw your fist up while screaming victory.

Eve Ensler is an American playwright, performer, and feminist activist. She has won an incredible amount of awards, not only for her creative initiatives within the arts but also because of her vast contribution to humanitarian causes. She created V-Day, a global activist movement that raises money and educates the public on violence against women and girls. With the money raised thanks to V-day, she has funded over 12,000 community-based anti-violence programs and safe houses in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Haiti, Kenya, South Dakota, Egypt, and Iraq. These safe houses provide shelter to victims of genital mutilation, gender violence, and “honor” killing, which are unfortunately common in many places.

After reading The Vagina Monologues I watched a documentary (available on Netflix and highly recommended) about one of her inspiring humanitarian projects called “City Of Joy” – a community for female survivors of gender violence in Bukavu, Democratic Republic of Congo. In this community, hundreds of Congolese women are provided with self-empowerment tools each year, such as self-defense training, sex education, group therapy, storytelling, theatre, dance, ecology, horticulture, and economic empowerment.

Here’s a link to the trailer of City of Joy:

I truly enjoyed the book and read it within just a couple of hours, but what I particularly liked was learning about the tremendous impact that the V-day movement has had on this collective global movement to build a better world.

Go buy the book, or watch the play! Here’s a small preview of one of the countless performances!

A Letter to my Recent-Graduate Self

Dear Andrea,

Congrats on finally finishing your double bachelor’s degree in France! So… I’ve got some good and bad news for you. The good news is that your drive and thirst to discover the world will push you to move twice in one year. You will leave the old and cold French city of Lyon to a tiny tropical island on the other side of the world for an incredibly promising internship, to the modern, intercultural and fast-paced city of sunny Barcelona for a master’s degree.

The bad news, you ask? Well, your expectations are too high, and your priorities are all messed up. Working for one of the largest intergovernmental organizations in the Pacific islands and participating in United Nations and European Union-funded programs as an intern will not easily open the doors you expect to be opened with a breeze. Meeting renowned government officials and politicians doesn’t mean as much as you think it does. It doesn’t mean anything actually. But it’s OK, there are more important things in life.

Oh, and Barcelona? You know that dreamy inter-cultural European city with beaches and mountains where diversity means everyone is accepted? Well, that doesn’t exist, not exactly. Right now, you think globalization can only have a positive impact on society, but Barcelona will teach you otherwise. What was once a culturally rich city with its unique identity within Spain, filled with fishermen, Spanish guitars, old gothic cafés, and cheap yet quality Spanish tapas, is now being bombarded with Vegan Fast Food Bars with English-written menu’s, McDonald’s everywhere, and overpriced coffee shops with Americanized names and tacky decor. Life-long residents are being kicked out of their homes so that rich, foreign international businessmen can take over the city center. Gentrification everywhere. At first, you will love to walk and try to guess every language you hear on the street. But you will shortly start to crave hearing locals speak their native tongue, wondering where the hell this community’s identity has gone.

Now, I know you’re excited about the master’s program. And you should be! You’ll learn so much from it. But don’t get too hyped about it. Expecting a job from your social science studies… Well, that’s a bit of a stretch. Everyone has higher studies these days and speaks several languages, which frankly makes these attributes of yours less valuable to society. What actually counts is experience.

You will go through two heartbreaks in one year, although you haven’t experienced one since you were 17. So beware! And be careful. I know you have the right to go crazy after a heartbreak, but people are seriously willing to take advantage of emotionally unstable girls out there. But you’re a big girl, you’ll get through it. And you will live more within a year than you have in 7 years. You’ll feel like staying single forever to protect your heart. But you don’t decide how life goes. Life decides for you. And when you least expect it, you will fall in love again.

Oh, and by the way, a global pandemic is about to happen. And you will be quarantined away from your family and friends, with the guy you just met but will fall in love with.

My advice to you is: stop giving so much importance to your future, the role you think you want to fill, the box you think you want to fit into. Thinking big right now is going to tear you apart with stress and anxiety. Before thinking about your label, your title, and your accomplishments according to capitalism – prioritize your growth. Plant little seeds where your heart feels curiosity. Make time to foster new hobbies that will keep you company when no one is around. Stop intaking so much information, and produce something. Make something, anything! Dance, write, draw. Even if you’re bad at it, if it makes you happy, make time for it.

Stop worrying about your future because once you get the job you think you love, you will have much less time for yourself. We work to live, not live to work. So live, live, live. Think of your life and happiness day by day because all you got is this moment. Cherish the moment in life you are in because you won’t get it again.

Sincerely,

Your 2020 self

Nina Simone: a Necessary Revolutionary Voice in the Arts during the Civil Rights Movement

What I’ve always loved about Nina Simone, more than her musical talent or revolutionary soul – is the passion in her voice.

She might not hit every note in the conventional sense we expect singers to, but in her voice, I feel power, anger, desperation, chaos, and a gist of eroticism.

She began playing piano at the age of 3 and aspired to become the first black female concert pianist, but her aspirations took a turn after being rejected from the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia for being black.

She became friends with civil rights activists such as Martin Luther King and Malcolm X and quickly became the soundtrack of a growing political movement for racial justice. “Mississipi Goddamn” was arguably her first political song in which she addresses the killing of black people.

She mixed art and politics at the height of a revolutionary movement, using her global platform to shed light on racial injustice in America. While she might not have been a civil rights figure in the way that Rosa Parks or MLK were, racial inequality was the basis for her work, and she used her strong, emotional voice to spread an important message to the world.

Simone’s social commentary was not limited to racial injustice in America.

In her autobiography, she explains that “I Put A Spell On You” (one of my favorite songs of hers), is meant to inspire black women to redefine and identify beauty without the influence of socially constructed beauty standards.

Nina Simone had a strong personality, anger issues, suffered from mental illness, and was a victim and survivor of domestic violence. Her passion and intensity were both a blessing and a curse.

But her flaming thirst for freedom was seductive, contagious, and represented a necessary revolutionary voice in the arts during the civil rights movement.

As Toni Cade Bambara said, “The role of the artist is to make revolution irresistible”, and I think Nina fulfilled that role.

Quote design by graphic designer Lucie Vittoz, check out her website! https://www.lucie-vittoz.com

Book Review: The Stranger (L’étranger) by Albert Camus

Have you ever picked up a new book that’s so captivating that you just can’t put down until you reach the last page?

The Stranger (l’étranger) was the un-put-downable book for me of 2020. Written in 1942 by French philosopher, author, and Nobel Prize winner Albert Camus, The Stranger was Camus’ first novel which quickly became a literary classic all around the world. The writing is extremely accessible with a premise that hooks you immediately, transporting you to the main character’s mind, place, and time. I won’t tell you what it’s about, but the content grapples with existentialism, cultural differences, love, sexism, murder, and the death sentence.

I bought this book for only two euros at a second-hand bookshop in Barcelona. I was extremely excited to check it out and read the first 20 pages or so, but when I got home and opened the book, I was severely sucked into it and was not able to put it down until I finished the last page. I read it in its original language, French, which is my third language. And yet, I devoured it in under two hours.

I cannot recommend this book enough, definitely in my top 3 novels. Ever.

10/10.

Book Review: King Kong Theory by Virginie Despentes

I write from the realms of the ugly, for the ugly, the frigid, the unfucked and the unfuckable, all those excluded from the great meat market of female flesh… Because this ideal of the seductive white woman constantly being waved under our noses – well, I’m pretty sure it doesn’t exist“.

– Virginie Despentes

Written by Virginie Despentes in 2006, King Kong Theory is agreeably the modern feminist manifesto that spares no pain, provocatively ravaging the current social order and theorizing controversial matters such as prostitution and rape.

Despentes’ deep insight comes from her personal experiences. She was a misfit, an underdog, rejected for her masculine punk-rock attitude, which explains her unapologetic and politically incorrect esthetic as opposed to academic feminism. She was raped by the age of 17 and shortly prostituted herself before becoming a film-maker, writer, and renowned French feminist and cultural critic. As someone who has been subject to so much sickening sexist violence, Virginie Despentes succeeded beyond my expectations in constructing an extroardinary manifesto as a blend of memoir and critical theory.

Although King Kong Theory is arguably my favorite non-fiction book, I disagreed with some of her points. For instance, stating that marriage is a socially accepted form of sex-work seems like an extreme and old-fashioned way of thinking, only applicable to very antiquated cultures. When advocating for sex-work and the protection of sex-workers, I would have liked for Despentes to get deeper into the ugly side of the world of prostitution, which millions of women are unwillingly forced into and are unable to escape. Nevertheless, the fact that this book sparks major internal debates, epiphanies, and quarrels, is further proof of its greatness. 

King Kong Theory is an absolute must introductory text for feminism. A provocative, unapologetic, anti-capitalist literary essay speaking for the misfits, the angry, the excluded, the ignored.