Posts Tagged ‘@MillyMichelle’

Written by Camille Michelle Gray

Summer is upon us. The atmosphere is warming, the sun is out for longer, and the humidity is ruining everyone’s hair. Along with the change in weather comes the change in wardrobe. I love summer clothes. I love shorts and skirts, and showing off the arms that tennis hath made. Summer dressing is effortless. The way a brightly colored chiffon maxi skirt flows with your legs as the sun shines down on you is one of life’s small yet potent pleasures, like a cup of tea at the end of a long day or a giant lick of love from your pet.

So there you are, walking down a golden-lit city street like a Grecian goddess, certain that your confidence is parting the clouds and curing someone’s cancer, beaming like the sun, settling at the apex of self-assuredness, patting yourself on the back for enduring a long winter (for surely this is the reward after months of parkas and shoveling), firmly rooted in the joy of the summer season…and then you hear it:

Aye girl, I’m tryna see what’s under that skirt! *snicker*

Mood=ruined. Smile=gone. Confidence=eviscerated. Sudden need to run away and hide in corner=maximized.

‘Tis the season for street harassers! They mostly hibernate during the cooler months, hiding just below perception like cicadas under your lawn, unable to be bothered with trying to sexualize a woman in a floor length coat and a balaclava. But distress not, ladies! They are back in full force to make sure you feel slightly disgusted in yourself, in them, and in the world at large. Yes, as legs, arms, and abs start making their annual appearance, this certain breed of man will emerge, giddy and restless from a skinless winter. They are ready, able and enthusiastic about making sure you think twice about wearing your favorite skirt to work, less they mistake you wanting keep cool and look cute in the sun for an invitation to have a one-sided and explosive conversation about your sexual validity.

This bout inappropriateness is so predictable that it almost doubles as a summer solstice. It’s not summer in Washington D.C. until you’ve been leered at a little too long or catcalled on your morning run. Like the first snow of the season christening winter, the first Aye girl, Hey baby, or Mmm girl lets you know that, surely, summer has arrived.

I could go on and on about the vastly creative harassment I endure on a daily basis during these summer months. I could wax poetic about how this patriarchal merry-go-round called America creates and tolerates this behavior. I could even devolve into a righteous rage about how what to men may be intended as an innocuous compliment could be easily misconstrued as a violation of self on the behalf of the woman. But all these blogs have been written already.

I want to talk about something else—something much more insidious, something that is equally as disturbing. I want to talk about the female enablers and apologists of street harassment. Yes, they exist. You may even be one of them. If you’re already reading this with a meh, it’s not really THAT bad type of disposition, then you are part of the problem sister girl.

Female apologists of street harassment frequently hide behind the same versions of arguments over and over:

1)      You should be grateful! When you become old like me and all the catcalls dry up, you’ll wish you cherished them while you were young!

2)      I don’t get street harassed. And because it’s not happening to me, it ain’t important to me and you’re just complaining.

3)      Where’s the harm if they’re just looking? Gosh, let them look. It’s not like they can touch.

4)      Blargh, beautiful women complaining about how HARD is it to be beautiful again. Wow, I’m so sorry that you’re so pretty and men yearn to let you know. Stop the complaining!

Personally, I have been issued the you’re beautiful, get over it, I wish men fawned at me like they do you, you’re young, it’s harmless, it should give you confidence card over and over and over and over again. Certainly at one point in my life I didn’t mind street harassment. I did think it was kind of like an affirmation of self, an affirmation that, Hey, maybe I AM pretty! YAY! But as I grew older, the “compliments” grew overtly sexual and perverted in nature, physical boundaries were absolutely crossed (STRANGER DANGER!), and the novelty of it all wore off gradually and then very suddenly as I shed my naivety and realized my powerlessness in it all.

Allow me to debunk all this bullsh*t:

1)      No. I won’t be grateful for some guy 35 years my senior calling me babydoll (condescending much?) and inquiring about what’s happening under my skirt. Won’t be grateful for a young male stranger grabbing onto my arm, threatening not to let go until he has my phone number. Won’t be grateful for a group of men publicly objectifying me in a Subway Sandwich shop, leaving me with palpable embarrassment and weakened pride. None of these things are to be cherished. None of these things uplift me as a woman, make me feel valued or beautiful. The attitude that I should sit back and take it because one day it will all be gone is nonsense if not only because I WANT IT TO ALL BE GONE NOW. No woman should derive self-esteem from outward validation anyway, especially if it’s as crude and disgusting as the brand of street harassment I know all too well. It bothers me that this simple Self Esteem 101 introductory lesson is lost on some older generations of women. Moreover, the idea that what is young is more beautiful than what is old, and the blindness in which some older women act as accomplices in their own devaluing, so much as to wish that they could be a victim of vile street communication if only to feel beautiful again is a web of f*ckery that only years of school and a doctorate degree can explain. Next!

2)      This argument reminds me of Jon Stewart’s beautifully snarky Global warming isn’t real because right now it’s cold where I am sound bite. Yes, so because no one–thankfully–yells at you on the street or catcalls you, it must not be a thing or, like, a super bona fide systemic failure of patriarchal society. This is called negative denial. It is looking upon an issue and denying its efficacy based on the fact that it’s not impacting you directly. And, hey, if it’s not happening to you, why care? Only boo, that’s a sh*tty argument. All women should care if even ONE woman is harassed because if they don’t, it gives a kind of cosmic permission for more street harassers to feel okay about their behavior. Hey, as long as no one is tattling, it must be condoned right? Whatever happened to this idea of sisterhood, of bonding together? Okay, so YOU aren’t a victim of street harassment, but what about your friend/sister/aunt/niece/daughter/girlfriend/mom/co-worker’s aunt’s sister’s friend that IS? Are their concerns kind of watered down just because you don’t see it as a true issue? As long as we aren’t completely unified in our assertion that street harassment isn’t okay, street harassing men will continually find loopholes to slip through and it will never stop.

3)      You can look but don’t touch! This concept makes sense in some contexts like buying expensive jewelry or walking through a museum of delicate artifacts. But it’s a bit more gray when it comes to human looking and touching. First of all, there is a world of difference between a harmless glance and the territorial terror that a salacious leer can invoke. A man staring at me for three seconds because he is walking by me on the street? Fine. Whatever. (Cue the I woke up like dis choir). But him staring at me and then craning his neck to stare some more, or turning his vehicle around to drive back and stare even more (this happened to me) or him slowing down an entire metro train to stare at me jogging around the adjacent lake (also happened to me)? NO BUENO AMIGA! It’s only humorous in retrospect. But in the moment, what’s to stop me from feeling like that staring man may not follow me back to my car or to my house where he will have the physical upper hand? Some women (and men) would be quick to offer that perhaps I am a meek little mouse who is afraid of the big mean world, always looking out for a potential predator even where there is none. But, in all of the aforementioned circumstances my fight-or-flight sequence was initiated. The most primal signifier of danger lit every cell of my body, as if to warn me that even if a salacious stare didn’t lead to assault, that the body language in which it was administered was disturbing and off enough that I need to proceed with caution. So what am I to believe? People who downplay feeling the danger of being stared at a little too long, or my natural biological wiring that has hundreds of thousands of years of finely tuned accuracy on its side? Next!

4)      I hate this last argument. It’s so delicate. Feelings get hurt, wires get crossed, self-esteem hangs precariously in the balance. It’s awkward because the perpetrators of this limp, pseudo-compliment laced in obvious jealousy and sarcasm often feel that they are not beautiful themselves. And thus, to pander to their low self-esteem, The Beautifuls of the World must hang their heads in shame and accept that having a symmetrical face and/or well-endowed assets has irrevocably tied them to a fate of being harassed. It’s just how the world works, ahh the pity of the gorgeous. Are tiny violins playing yet? This argument is crock. Women who tragically and incorrectly perceive themselves as average or God-forbid, ugly, who don’t ever get harassed or cat called, may wish to ignore the issue of street harassment all together, seeing it as justified punishment for some dare having won a genetic lottery. It’s a little sick and sadistic, as if any woman truly deserves to be sexually objectified regardless of how they look. It also ties back to my earlier observation that yearning for outward validation is backwards in and of itself. According to this argument, if you’re beautiful, you have it made, so you should shut the f*ck up and go put some lipstick on. You’re not allowed to feel violated or sexualized because you being very good-looking is prize enough. The self-perceived Uglies of the world will not fight on your behalf to feel respected while walking down the street because the world has denied them the privilege of beauty, or so it seems. And so very subtly, these women crying that we all shut up and get over it have joined allegiance with our male street oppressors and they don’t even realize it. They want to silence our voice, they want to categorize the whole thing as a non-issue, they want our complacency and our mollification. Yet another example of how women turn their backs on each other, allowing personal webs of self-identification and esteem to trounce the collective soul and goals of the oppressed woman. They step in and out of the sisterhood when it’s convenient for them.

And so there it is. This is how some women tacitly play into the continuation of street harassment. Is it their fault? No. I am sure street harassment apologist theories wouldn’t even exist if not for the patriarchal conditioning of this society. We are all bred into a system that values women first and foremost on how they look. And as long as you are validated by a man, no matter how or where that validation comes, you’re winning right? You should be grateful, right? You should cherish it, right? You should stop complaining about it, right? Just let them look, right?

WRONG. Unapologetically wrong.

This isn’t intended to make anyone feel bad or riled up. It is, rather, a call to consciousness, to observe the pathologies that silently plague perspective and distort our awareness. Sure, to some, street harassment is far from the civil rights issue of the century, but to deny its existence or its power over the everyday lives of everyday women is to allow injustice, even small injustices, to survive and thrive in an underbelly of American ignorance. And as was once so eloquently stated: injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

Written by Camille Michelle Gray

I am on the heels of releasing my debut EP ‘Street Cinema.’ Here is my shameless plug: go to www.camillemichellegray.com to download the EP for free and to watch the two music videos I put out in support of it.

I promise that has something to do with the rest of this post.

Yesterday I had an invigorating debate with a friend on the topic of a selfless career. We careened intelligently back and forth about our goals, dreams, and dispositions towards a fulfilling life in the snappy and excitable way that twenty-somethings often do. We both agreed that we want our careers and ultimately our lives to make the world a better place once we’re gone. It’s a very lofty goal. I know you may be thinking Yeah, yeah that sounds nice but that’s just something people say. Surely it may seem grandiose to want your presence here on the Earth to contribute to its arc towards love, positivity, happiness, and all things lovely and fluffy. And it’s trendy to be cynical about the future and rebuff gentle sentiments like the one stated above as delusional dreams of the dangerously optimistic. You may be thinking Whatever. I just want to do ______ for a living. I’m not out here to change the world. I’m just one person anyway. But oh, dear hardened reader, you CAN make the world a better place from you having been here, and it’s deliriously simple to do.

When you go after that which makes your heart sing, which gives you joy, which leaves you satisfied and contented, you show up brighter in the world. When you show up brighter and live from this energizing space, you subconsciously give others permission to do the same. People yearn to be around those who are chasing their dreams. There is something spiritually seductive about a person who owns their passion, and continuously shows up for it. Those stymied and frustrated souls look upon those who have the gusto to go for their goals and unconsciously or consciously feel invigorated to do the same. And should we all have the guts to go after that which makes our hearts sing, the world sings. Therein lies the secret to changing the world.

You may think that having a selfless career means you have to be doing something to help others in a very tangible way like build schools or nurse premature infants. And while these professions are needed and do indeed increase the quality of life and the quality of the world, so do simple things like writing a book, being an engaged customer service agent, singing a song, or cooking a dish.

There is a woman who always passes out newspapers at the metro station in the morning, who greets people with a jovial GOOD MORNING or HOW YA DOIN BABY, who appears to be so completely enthralled and in love with the task of getting to speak to people. She always has a huge smile on her face, and often engages in quite hilarious rapport with her coworkers or those walking by. It’s such a delight to witness, and in the course of several seconds, whatever dim emotions I was allowing to swell up in my bones before dissipates and I offer my own smile and my own well wishes to her. The entire arc of my day changes in that instant. Perhaps without her sunny smile and willingness to engage hurried strangers I would have carried those unruly emotions with me into my day. But there is a sweet oneness in interacting with someone who so enjoys their work. It penetrates my nervous system and allows me to show up brighter than I would have. Worldly eyes would look upon her job as menial and meaningless, but showing up passionately for the task at hand creates visceral ripples. And so it is that any job, any creation, any task holds within it the maximal potential to affect the world around it. And in turn, the world changes.

When I talked about this with my pal, it was suggested that this outlook on your career is perhaps arrogant. To go into your career with the hopes of changing a life or producing inspiration perhaps could be seen as a delusion of grandeur. Like How dare I think I can change the world. I’m not God. But this is incorrect thinking. To intend to change a life, create a smile or a laugh, make someone think differently, or make someone happier all because of your solo efforts is not arrogant, it’s selfless. When you show up for your career hoping to inspire or change, you are living from a space of service. You are looking at your talents and competencies as things to be shared for mutual enlightenment and enjoyment.

Many people do the opposite thing. They go into a job, a career, a profession from a stand point of what can I get out of this? They design their dreams around what will give THEM the most happiness, joy, love, comfort, money, self-esteem, et cetera and everyone else plays second fiddle to this drama. THIS is arrogance. A singer who sings so they can get a record contract and a yacht does not show up brightly at all. In fact their energy is desperate, and their capacity to change the world favorably is diminished no matter how many dollars they earn, no matter how much they may be using their given talents. It’s arrogant to think your actions, your career somehow happens in a vacuum, like you’re in this world alone and don’t affect anyone or anything. Like your feelings and security are the only things of import.

I am certainly not saying that every corner of this world is a safe place to speak your truth, and that you should proclaim loudly all over the place: I’M GOING TO CHANGE THE WORLD! No. Rather, adopt a quiet and centered place within yourself where you know that this is your intention. And that silent conviction will carry you, and remind you gently on those bad days that you’re in this for real, and owe it to the world to play big. Humility is gorgeous, but when used to shrink down, play small, and think things like Who am I to think I can do this, can be fatal and unproductive. A healthy sense of self and purpose is composed of both humility and grandiosity in equal measure. Too much of either distorts the dream.

And so I have released my first EP with all of this in mind. It’s human to feel afraid of going for your goals, and to let people in on that process. I exhausted myself trying to get the songs perfect, and envisioned nightmarish outcomes of people hating it publicly. But fear is never in alignment with your highest truth. And so on the eve of my EP’s release I remembered why it is I’m doing this. I reminded myself that should this EP, or even one song on the EP, reach just one person in a real way and make them smile, ponder, nod their head, or just generally release themselves from those things that bog us down in everyday life for even four minutes, then that will be enough, and the effort will be worth it. No job is too small to the powers that be. Of course this doesn’t mean I should just settle and sing for an audience of one my whole life and then die in poverty. Rather, it’s an invitation to remember why I’m here and to respect the process. Living abundantly, giving freely of my talents with the highest of intentions, and being grateful for every listening ear opens me up to receive even more. The world always mirrors back to you what you give it, and should we show up bright in whatever it is we do, then we can live with the conviction that our wildest successes will be held in trust for us, waiting to be downloaded at the right time.

A song can lift a spirit. A meal can deliver satisfaction. A dress design can bolster self-esteem. A photograph can inspire wonder. A movie can produce catharsis. A building can create a home. A speech can energize an audience. An intention can change a heart. And if you know what changes a heart, you know what changes the world.

Written by Camille Michelle Gray

One morning this week I found myself on The Huffington Post, as I most often do to ease myself into the workday. I clicked on an article titled “11 Body Image Heroes of 2013.” This article cataloged all the women in 2013 who spoke out against fat shaming, conducted brave social experiments, and created provocative art, amongst other things.

When I read these women’s stories and quotes my eyes kind of glazed over suspiciously. Starlets like Jennifer Lawrence and Shailene Woodley condemned the media’s treatment of famous women.  Plus size supermodel Jennie Runk and pageant queen Elena Raouna spoke out against restrictive norms in the beauty industry. Many others, artists and advocates alike, shared their own stories and projects that aimed to tackle down and suffocate the notion that only skinny women are attractive.

Though I appreciated these brave women for taking a stand through the medium suited best for them, by the time I reached the end of the article I was shaking my head. Only ONE of the “heroes” was a woman of color. How is it that those who promote body image diversity (in this case, the writer of this Huffington Post article) fail to realize that they’re not being diverse at all? You cannot be for body diversity and then only use white bodies. 

Jennifer Lawrence and Shailene Woodley are the norm. They are white and thin. Forgive me when I say that I throw up a little when I hear a blonde hair, blue-eyed woman lament beauty culture while simultaneously failing to acknowledge that this beauty culture has deemed her aesthetic to be the most attractive. Most of the women featured as “heroes” were white and while some were heavy, that still doesn’t mean they can speak succinctly or even accurately on what it is to be oppressed by beauty norms. Their pale and ivory skin has shielded them from fully experiencing the short side of the beauty culture stick, yet they speak as though they understand the pain, and are celebrated as martyrs and mavericks.

It reminded me of that Twitter hashtag that went viral: “#solidarityisforwhitewomen.” We can celebrate bodies, but they can only be white bodies. I’m sure the women who play into this seemingly positive meme don’t have exclusionary intentions, but the fact that no one seems to notice the homogenous nature of it all is disturbing. The masses are so used to only digesting white women’s bodies (they appear more in print ads, television ads, television shows and movies than any other type of woman), that the obvious absence of women of color is not a red flag.  The painful irony of being pro body diversity and then, in turn, not being very diverse at all is a great cosmic joke.

Everywhere I turn on the Internet, there is some project or Tumblr page or advocacy group dedicated to honoring larger women, and the pictures are all of white bodies. When I mentioned this discrepancy in the comments section of the Huffington Post article, it was quickly favorited by many, but I had to put up with one retort that I found particularly depressing. A white woman responded:

“I think the body image problem is far more prevalent within the white female community than within other backgrounds. I think females from other ethnic backgrounds are far ahead of white females when it comes to this issue…”

What a dangerous thing to think. So because I am black, I am automatically immune to all societal conditioning, and am a beacon of self-confidence and worth? So because women of color are somehow so much stronger and resilient, our bodies don’t deserve to be celebrated as well?  (On a tragic side note, since it has become a collective misunderstanding that women of color, namely black women, are not vulnerable to body image demons, medical professionals routinely misdiagnose and ignore symptoms of eating disorders in us. We are left untreated and uncared for.)

This is why the #solidarityisforwhitewomen hashtag was created. Some white women actually think (unconsciously or not) that empowerment is a fight to be fought amongst themselves, rather than a journey to be experienced by all, for the uplifting of all.  The body image heroes of 2013 do not look like me and cannot sufficiently make me feel better about myself, speak on my behalf, or be a source of empowerment because they only tell one side of the story. When will my story be told too?

There are many women of color who are hurting when it comes to how they look.  Some of us think we are fat as well. To see ourselves being embraced by body image movements could be such a great point of pride for us. To see body image heroes that not only mirror our size, but also our complexion is a surefire way to expand the story of body diversity, normalize different colors and shapes, and validate ALL of our struggles.

Written by: Camille Michelle Gray

If you’re in a bad mood right now, it’s your fault. Sober yourself with that notion.

Someone may have crashed into your car, stepped on your foot, and stole all your money. Now you’re angry at the world. It’s easy to conclude that this anger is someone else’s fault. But it’s not. It’s yours.

So long as you are looking for a reason to be angry, sad, victimized, hurt, etc., you will always find one. It’s called confirmation bias. It’s also called putting out bad vibes or attracting like energy. Either way, it all connects back to you. Ever start off a day on a bad note, and the day continues to be terribly “meh” or even bad from there on out? That’s no coincidence.

I am far from a Pollyanna, and if someone crashed into my car, stepped on my feet AND stole all my money, I’d probably fume around for a few hours too. Or maybe a day (or week). But there is one thing that is 100% guaranteed to change your mood, change your vibration, change your day, and change your life:

GRATITUDE.

In the above hyperbolic situation, it would be hard to feel thankful for a car crash or an emptied bank account, right? But what if you shifted your perspective? What if you were thankful that you even had a car? What if you were thankful that you had the job that could recover your losses? And a stretch—what if you were grateful you even had feet?!

As Oprah says, if you’re breathing on your own without the assistance of a machine, that alone is something to be grateful for. (Go ahead, take a deep breath. Doesn’t it feel good?!)

Sometimes I go days soaking in sulk, thinking pointless things like Why not me or How come she got that or I’m ugly. These thoughts are energy vampires. They rob the world of my good mood and attract back to me more and more situations to feel pitiful about.

It is unnatural to be going through a tough time, stop yourself, and say Oh, it’s okay. I should stop being sad and just be grateful for this, that, and the other. I don’t advocate that. Move through your feelings, you are human.  But I would always hope that there is a little tickle in the back of your mind that reminds you that you are loved, safe, and well provided for, no matter your situation or means. (It’s true. What glory it is that trees and plants take the toxicity from the air and allow us to breathe in clean oxygen. Little wonders like that should make you smile REAL big.)

If you took thirty seconds out of everyday to be grateful for three things, you can literally change your brain and become hardwired for happiness (neuroplasticity).

Aren’t you thankful for the computer or mobile device that’s allowing you to read this? So many people in the world don’t even have an Internet connection. Aren’t you grateful for the education that allows you to comprehend this? So many people in the world don’t have the gift of literacy. Aren’t you grateful for your warm bed? So many people in the world are without shelter. It’s the very things you take for granted that would mean the world to others.

They don’t have to be grandiose things either. You can be grateful for getting to eat a favorite meal of yours, grateful for having a television show that makes you laugh, or grateful for a device that holds ALL YOUR SONGS (and you get to listen to them whenever you want!) !!!!

A second thing I don’t advocate is wallowing in guilt for your gifts, and playing the Well someone has it worse than me, I should just shut up card. Someone will always be doing worse than you, how does your pity help them any? Be grateful for the things you have and let that satisfaction, comfort, and happiness COMPEL you to spread those feelings to those less fortunate. With gratitude, everyone wins.

I know you’re probably tempted to write this off as some airy-fairy, “goo goo ga ga” hippie nonsense. Big, ethereal notions like being grateful that you have working lungs, or being grateful for the spectacularly random position Earth occupies in space that makes life even possible may be unhelpful in small, more human upsets.  I hear that. And sometimes it really does feel good to play victim—it takes the responsibility for your life off you and places it into some fickle higher force that’s controlling your destiny and wants you to suffer (no such thing!). Or maybe you’re media-vigilant, and see so much bad going on in the world that you feel it futile or unhelpful to feel good about anything.

But there is nothing fanciful or idealistic about looking around in your life and seeing what IS working for you. And something always WILL be working for you. I would behoove you to focus your energy on that. Focus on what you do have, rather than what you do not. Focus on what the world is doing well (clean energy initiatives, better healthcare, more tolerance), rather than what it’s struggling with. This is not about zoning out in your rose-colored glasses, refusing to see anything wrong. It’s about allowing yourself to feel good, hopeful, and enthusiastic in the midst of things going wrong, and allowing that high-frequency energy to touch and color everything. Because it will. And that is how the world and you will heal.

A miracle is a shift in perspective. Gratitude is the oil that allows that shift to move smoothly. And when you smile, the world smiles back.

You can start small with me. Like today I am grateful for warm cups of tea, wool socks, and my guitar.

What are you grateful for?

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Camille Michelle Gray is a 22-year-old singer/songwriter from Washington D.C. She likes dogs, cheese, and Lady Gaga.

Written by: Camille Michelle Gray

As I type, my heart is still aflutter from a disagreement I just had with a male friend. It was about Nicole Richie. I know that seems bizarre, but hear me out.

I am in the midst of a month-long weight loss challenge at my place of work. The prize at the end is a couple hundred bucks, a new body, hopefully some healthy habits to bring with you into the future, and bragging rights for a few days. Perfect, I thought, this is just what I need to motivate myself. And it’s true. For the last several months I have been working out off and on, eating healthy off and on, and basically just treating a healthy lifestyle as something to jump in and out of. Can you blame me really? I’m only twenty-two and for the last four years, my health habits have been shaped by college culture. If there is any time in life to fuck up and eat ten slices of pizza, now is that time. While I am proud to say I no longer sit down to a dinner of Easy Mac and Oreos, I still have a long way to go. This weight loss challenge is by no means negative, or a way for the women and men at work to shame themselves into working out 24/7 and surviving on zucchini paste. It’s an avenue for office camaraderie and a positive way of living.

That being said, I’m taking this shit super seriously. I finally have a finite area of time in which to work on fitness goals instead of having abstract long-term ideas of what I want my body to look like. If I can keep at cutting carbs and doing cardio every day for thirty days, that’s all it will take to form a healthy habit. I know that this all sounds fantastic, right? But there is a dark shadow that lurks under me every time I embark on body-centric adventures like this: I become hyper-vigilant of my body and other women’s bodies. I compare myself, pinch myself, and feel happy for myself and bad for myself all in the course of twenty-four hours. I look at other women’s legs to determine whether mine are abnormal. I expect that after an hour’s workout, I should have lost ten pounds. I monitor the way my pants fit, feeling uneasy if they’re still snug. I keep mental track of everything I eat…so on and so forth ad nauseam.

It’s exhausting and I thought I was past all of it.

My history is that in high school (when I was, ironically, much smaller than I am now) I had body dysmorphic issues. The back of my bedroom door was a collage of super skinny models and celebrities. I would stare at them from my bed and think why not me? This led me to several months of just drinking Lipton green teas and sucking on peppermints for sustenance. I affectionately called it “fasting” because that sounded better than “purposefully starving myself to fit into a size 0 American Eagle skinny jean.” I was also on the varsity tennis team and ran around my neighborhood a lot. Between starvation and over-activity, I shrank down to a record low of one hundred and twelve pounds. (I DO NOT ENDORSE THIS BEHAVIOR!) But, since I did not have an underlying mental illness fueling this distorted vanity, I was able to pull myself out of it, accept my body, and move on with my life.

So now that I am almost a week into this weight-loss challenge, I am trying to reconcile my old body demons with my new sense of self-respect. I will never do my body the disservice of not feeding it. I will also never be a size two, and getting knee-high boots over my dense, muscular calves is impossible. I have accepted this. But that mean voice that tells me to eat a bit less and exert a bit more for sake of cellulite is what gets me up off the couch to run. The voice that says, I’m lovely and perfect as I am coaxes me into eating one more cookie and settling into a marathon of Law and Order: SVU. I still haven’t found the balance between them, but am trying.

Now back to Nicole Richie. Back in the day, her startling body transformation motivated me for all the wrong reasons. I revisited this idolatry today when I Googled her images. I sent the most disturbing ‘Before & After’ picture to a male friend of mine who proceeded to say the following: Eww, she’s so gross. If u think that’s sexy then LOL

Now, I didn’t send the picture with a caption saying I want to be just like her. I merely just sent the picture to open up a dialogue, as I always randomly do. She was on my mind, and I happened to be talking to this friend at the same time…so I sent it innocuously.

Reader, you are now privy to my history of body image issues and my extreme tactics to get thin. You’ll maybe understand why when he insulted her current body by calling it disgusting, I took offense. Not because I want to be like her, or agree with her methods of attaining such a body—but because I don’t like the idea that men get to have any type of say in the bodies women want and the bodies women have. A sad truth is that men shape beauty ideals for women. They implicitly and explicitly dictate what is desirable in a woman and it changes based on the particular man. I know that some of this is biologically hardwired (round hips, clear skin, big eyes, etc.), but more often than not men think their opinion on their perfect woman has currency and impressionable women internalize it. Some may want a stick thin woman, some may want a woman with Marilyn Monroe curves, and some may want the sensuous flesh of women like Melissa McCarthy and Octavia Spencer. Some only want fair-skinned women. There are many women who distort themselves to fit the beauty standards of the men they want: some get butt implants, some stop eating, some bleach their skin, some forego make up, some wear short dresses, and some get hair extensions. One of the many things behind all of these methods is some unwritten rule that starts Men like… or Men want…or Men think it’s sexy when you have… While a fraction of women do these things for themselves (for better or worse), another entirely too large fraction do it to win affections.

I went off on this male friend, bashing him for making fun of a segment of women who are naturally thin, and women who’s mental disorders have shaped their waif-like bodies. I told him that if body standards weren’t so onerous, women would feel less stressed to fit into a mold. I told him that this way of categorizing the bodies of some women as better or worse than others is derived from a poisonous patriarchy, and it has seeped down into the woman sisterhood causing us to fight, belittle, and pick each other apart. For certain if we had less pressure from the male community to conform into a standard, whatever standard that may be, we would put less pressure on others and ourselves. The dictating of beauty standards also comes from other places: the media, vicious women, cultural norms, etc. But men do us no favors by playing along with this narrative.

When men say things that are seemingly innocent like pancake butt women need not apply or women with small boobs are like teenage boys, us women internalize that and more often than not feel like we are coming up short. (Or the flip side: a woman’s body DOES fit into a standard, and she derives all her worth from outward validation. Just as bad). We are social beings. We want lovers. We want to pass on our genes. This process is impeded by our impeccably low self-esteem, low self-esteem that is co-created by the desires of men.

Men: it is okay to have a preference, but you don’t have to state your preferences by indirectly putting other women down. If you like women with big butts, that is fine. There is no need to proclaim it to the world. There is especially no need to call all flat-butted women gross. Accept that beauty exists outside of your standards and acquaint yourself with the war many women wage against their own bodies. Have some f****** compassion and watch your words. If you knew how hard women worked to just feel okay about themselves, you’d think differently about what you say. Women: do the same when it comes to the type of man you want. It goes both ways even though power is still tipped in favor of men. And especially stop fraternizing with other women who think it’s okay to make fun of Miley Cyrus’ thin body or to make fun of weave lines and tans. We are all trying our best to live beautifully in a world that chops us down and calls us ugly at every turn. Stop unconsciously playing into it.

When my friend called Nicole Richie gross, my heart lit up with the same sadness I felt every time I felt like I was gross by some man’s standards. (re: I don’t like short women. Women with fat legs are gross. EAT A SALAD! Women with short hair look like men. I want hair to be nice and long so I can grab onto it, etc.). I felt the need to defend her even though I don’t have or want her body.

Nicole and I sculpt our bodies based on what we want, despite our methods. When I hit the elliptical, I’m not thinking, Boy, all this work is gonna pay off when I get a date. I’m thinking, Boy, I’m so proud of myself for going this extra ten minutes. It’s all going to pay off when I look in the mirror and reap the benefits of healthy choices and dedication. I would urge all women to start thinking this way. When I decided to go all 2008 Rihanna and cut off my hair, I sat in hesitation for a week thinking I would be a leper to all men if my hair was too short. Then I thought, “Fuck that. I’m doing this because I want to.” And that confidence will carry you far.

Tall, short, skinny, average, athletic, obese, short hair, long hair, blonde hair, black hair, acne, clear skin, healthy eater, junk food eater, gaining weight, losing weight, big boobs, small boobs, bubble butt, no butt—whatever the case may be for the women in your life, know that OUR BODIES DON’T EXIST FOR YOUR ENTERTAINMENT. There is so much more to our bodies than being ogled over or being the subject of your disgust. Us women have a hard enough time loving ourselves all on our own. We don’t need your judgmental voices adding fuel to the self-hate fire. Love the big butt of your girlfriend or your celebrity crush and at the same time have compassion for the skinny girl down the hall who feels ugly and out-of-place for not having that butt.  Self-esteem is an inside job—that much is true. But helping to create an environment where women of all shapes and sizes feel welcomed, sexy, and unapologetic for the body their unique science has created for them or a body they have created for themselves is main nutrient self-love seeds need to grow.

My bout with the peppermint diet in high school was entirely about wanting to be beautiful—beautiful enough to have some guy find me beautiful too. The difference between then and now is I don’t feel powerless or at the whim of discretionary criterion. Even though I do stand too long at the mirror trying to will my stretch marks away by staring at them or pulling at my leg flesh so I can have a thigh-gap, I know that at the end of the day, these things don’t define me or my beauty. It would be nice if men could catch onto this way of thinking too and accept women for where they are in their body journeys.

Now for me, I’m about to shut this laptop and head out to the gym. Not so I can morph myself into some man’s dream woman, but because I really, really, really, want that prize money! Cha-ching! (Oh, and I guess a healthier disposition too…)

P.S. Before I get the hate mail, no I am not painting all men with the same broad brush. The descriptor of “men” was used for rhetorical reasons and not as a way to say all men are the same. Also, I realize this think piece is hetero-normative. I fully realize these issues are prevalent in the gay community as well. But I can only write from my experience.

Camille Michelle Gray is a 22-year-old singer/songwriter from Washington D.C. She likes dogs, cheese, and Lady Gaga.

A reflection written and contributed by Camille Michelle Gray

When I was in college, the only time I’d see my extended family was during the holidays. Heck, the only time I ever see my extended family is on holidays, but I digress. These holidays are a chance for everyone to catch up—“How’s the practice going?”, “How did the operation go?”, “How did that trip go?”…so on and so forth. When it’s my turn to churn out the perfunctory things are going great catch-all, I was and am always troubled by the so where’s the boyfriend question. When I’m asked about school or work or my travel excursions abroad, I am always met with a matter-of-fact tone. But when people inquire into my dating life, or lack thereof, their heads tilt, they smile saccharinely, and their voices always go up at least an octave—all things that tacitly connote an air of pity, like they’re all secretly thinking you poor thing, bless your single little heart.

When I was in high school and starting out in college, this question bothered me because I, too, would look in the mirror and say you poor thing, bless your single little heart. Back then I subscribed to the societal stupidity of I Have a Boyfriend, Therefore I Am.

Now when I hear that all so common question (asked by all types of people running the gamut from my family to total strangers) about my lack of boyfriend, I become internally infuriated. Before when I answered I would say really depressing things like I don’t know, no one likes me, I’m shy and probably ugly or too pretty and intimidating. Now, after years of spiritual growth, introspection, and romantic experience, I answer Because I’m working on being with myself right now or I haven’t found the right person or I really would just rather work on my music and pet my dog and watch ‘Inglorious Basterds’ for the sixth time.

The subtle change is that now I am opting to remain single. Before I fought against singledom like a tea-partier at an Obama rally. Here is a frank truth that applies to me and many other women I know: If I really sincerely needed a boyfriend or male assurance, I could put on my Uggs from 2008, drive down to CVS right now, and charm a fellow into being with me. I could charm at least half of the men on a metro car at any given time. I have grown into myself and know I am capable of these things, shy/intimidating/ugly/pretty or not. This is a fact. The problem for me (and other women) isn’t that there is some dearth of men who would like to be with me in some capacity. The problem, which isn’t really a problem, is that I’m much more obsessed with quality.  Sure CVS man could be anatomically male and that is where the standards stop for some women, but is he smart? Is he witty? Is he doing something with his life? Does he respect me? And can he watch ‘Inglorious Basterds’ with me for the sixth time?

People love to tell me why I needn’t be single. Things like: but you’re so pretty, you’re so smart and funny, you went to a college with more men than women for God’s sake!!! (By the way, no humble brag intended. People have told me these things and I’m merely recounting them…don’t shoot the messenger!)

But because I am obsessed with quality checking the person I will be spending my life, or at least my twenties (or at least 2014) with, the Getting A Boyfriend process is so much slower for me. I know what you’re thinking: Camille, it’s slow because you’re picky and have dumb standards. Ouch. But…maybe you have a point. Is being picky dumb though? Why should I dishonor myself by having someone around who isn’t lighting up my heart space just so I don’t have to be alone? Why should I have to settle in order to please the population of people who look at single women like me with judgment and pity? Don’t I deserve to have someone who makes me smile, makes my heart jump, and shares a similar passion for life? The answer is: yes, we ALL do. And here is a bonus: THAT PERSON EXISTS!

And don’t discount me. I’ve played the desperate woman, holding onto men who are just terrible for me out of the fear of being alone. I’ve also played the super-open minded-nothing-fazes-me woman who dates anyone with a sparkle of potential. And guess what: both situations left me unhappy. So I made the decision to stop burdening myself with that injustice and to just be alone for now.

At the tender age of twenty-two, I feel so amazingly blessed to be in on a little secret: I am whole and complete without a romantic partner. The love and validation I used to seek from men already exists inside of me. Nothing outside of me can supply my happiness, self esteem, or worth—it’s all an inside job!! Does that mean that I don’t want someone to cuddle up with on a rainy Friday night (re: ‘Inglorious Basterds’ watching)? No. It means that as I wade through the purgatory between relationships, I can feel secure, vibrant, loved, sexy and just fine instead of twiddling my thumbs, remaining idle and crying when I see people holding hands.

But Camille, how did you get from feeling depressed about being single to being okay with it in a matter of years? I’ll tell you how: a lot of f*cking hard work. I worked on myself via my spiritual path non-stop for two years straight and it was ugly. I shined light on all my dark places, I got real with myself, I cried, I practiced newly learned spiritual skills on dates, I sought counsel, I read books, I DID EVERYTHING. And I am so much better for it. By no means is my work done. Sometimes I catch myself scrolling through pictures of engagement photo shoots on the Internet, dipping my toes into an insidious river of envy flowing in the back of my mind. But now I can catch myself, snap myself back into reality, and breathe into the knowing that I am fine as is and that the Universe’s timing of events is smarter than my petty wants. It’ll all happen in due time.

Think of it this way: if you went to a psychic who had a 100% track record of predicting future events, and she said to you I see you with the love of your life. You’re perfect partner is coming soon would you feel anxious anymore about being single? That’s where I am right now. I’ve relaxed into singledom and have adopted a blind faith that it will happen. I don’t beat myself up anymore. And if I don’t beat myself up about it, it will be hard to let anyone else beat me up about it either. A positive side effect of all of this: by virtue of being single and happy despite it, not only do I have more time to work on myself and my goals, I also elevate my energy and become more apt to attract awesome things like a job promotion (check), a healthier body (check), and yes, a boyfriend (no check…yet!)

And so it is that the holidays are among us and I will be soon sitting around bloodlines, awaiting a barrage of questions about my life. And when someone inevitably asks about my relationship status, I plan to just sit there champagne flute in hand, shrug nonchalantly and reply: Oh I’m single? Didn’t even notice.

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Camille Michelle Gray is a 22 year old singer/songwriter from Washington D.C. She likes dogs, cheese, and Lady Gaga. Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube!

A Reflection Written/Contributed by Camille Michelle Gray

We live in a highly impersonal world. But we take it personally.

I am a singer/songwriter, and in this modern era it is pretty much suicide not to have an online presence. So I have a YouTube page. On this page I have posted pretty well received covers of songs with a smattering of originals. I am lucky to have such a solid base of online supporters. Every time I go to check the comments, my soul sours. A teen from Jakarta is now learning how to play the guitar because of me. A beauty from Tampa wants to use my rendition for a talent show. A suave young man from London proclaims that he will buy any and all of my albums, should I choose to make them.

And so it is that these online strangers have added momentum to my dream, to my calling, to the goal I set forth for myself when I was less than a decade old. These people do not know me, though. They have never seen me in person. They’ve never witnessed a pimple on my face, or a dark shade of my mood, or the certain spark of seeing me smile. I am nothing more than a digital presence to them, and for me, they are just words on a screen. Yet those black Times New Roman words stitch themselves to my spirit, and allow me to show up for life a bit brighter than I was before.

But, I am not here to boast about my gratitude for these strangers. I’m here to examine the dark underbelly of being able to share opinions so freely and without accountability, specifically as it relates to those of us in pursuit of music.

Here’s a YouTube comment (YouTube comments, we can all agree, are where kindness and empathy go to die) I happened upon the other week:

You ruined this song, you should go kill yourself. You’re not really that pretty and you can’t sing.

Okay, whoa. Let’s just all soak that in. Regardless of whether or not you dear readers agree with that anonymous comment, I think we can all agree it’s a massive overreaction to something they just happened not to like.

My first reaction was to laugh it off. So I did that. My next reaction was to delete the comment. I did that too. (I always delete nasty comments. I don’t tolerate reckless negativity and I especially don’t want to give it life by letting it sit there being able to be read by others. Constructive criticism? Yes, always, bring it on! You telling me to die? Nah. How will I get better if I’m dead?). Then I texted a friend about it and we laughed about it together. Then I let the comment settle in my psyche. I’m not sixteen anymore, so I didn’t automatically go to some poor me wasteland. I’m grown now, and I refuse to be tackled down by anonymous mean-spirited comments. So instead, I got righteous. I got righteously indignant. I found myself justifying my talent to myself!

I can totally sing. If there’s one thing I know I know how to do, it’s sing! So that’s not even, like, factually accurate. And I can definitely write! I can write songs too. Writing and singing—these are things I know I know how to do. No one can tell me different! And so what if I’m not the prettiest. I value being able to sing and write over my looks anyway so BOO YAH!

I let this inner monologue drape my brain for another hour or so. And then once I was tired of marinating in my madness, I realized that I was taking this impersonal comment personally. Just as easily as Internet admirers allowed my soul to sour, Internet haters allowed it to drown. I allowed it to drown.

It was during this epiphany that I was drawn back to one of my favorite quotes by Theodore Roosevelt that is truncated below:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena… if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly”

I am in the arena, literally and figuratively. Every time I get up to perform an original song, I am in the arena. And if I mess up the words and miss all of my notes, at least I had the bravery to get up there in the first place. And so it is with all musicians. Anyone brave enough to take his or her God-given expression and hold it up for the world to see, regardless of whether or not the world will like it, has dared greatly.

When I post a YouTube video, I am in the arena. I am relinquishing all control and sharing my heart space with strangers. Not in an attempt to seek validation, fame, money or adulation—but with the hope that it will inspire others to do the same, whether it is with music, graphic design, accounting, or law.

Posting mean comments behind the safety of your computer is not daring greatly. Criticizing and belittling the music others have worked so hard to create is not daring greatly. Telling someone to die or to stop pursuing their dream because you do not have the wherewithal to accept that talent comes in infinite shapes, sizes and colors and that you have the free will to pick and choose as you please without degrading or deriding…is not daring greatly.

Remember this the next time you feel the need to share cruel comments about someone who has or is daring greatly. But especially remember it when you are on the receiving end of such unkind words.

Are you in the arena? Or are you merely sitting on the sidelines?

Camille Michelle Gray is a 22 year old singer/songwriter from Washington D.C. She likes dogs, cheese, and Lady Gaga.

Camille Michelle Gray’ Social Media: Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube!