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Internalized Sexism: My Experience Getting Botox for Migraines

By: Claire Armstrong

In the summer of 2019, I started having headaches every day. Sometimes I could function as usual, sometimes I had to stay in bed in the dark with an ice pack for days on end. My primary care physician referred me to a neurologist, who diagnosed me with migraines. She prescribed an anticonvulsant pill also used to treat migraines. It made my fingers tingle, made soda taste weird, and made my depression worse, but did nothing to improve my headaches. Next, we tried Ajovy, a medicine I injected myself with each month. Again, no change. I started resorting to Advil PM to knock myself out when the migraines wouldn’t end. My neurologist decided I needed an MRI. The scans showed white matter lesions on my brain, consistent with chronic migraines. My neurologist told me the next step was to try Botox. 

I was desperate for some relief, but upset at the prospect of getting Botox. And it wasn’t because I was scared of having 20 needles stuck into my head, face, and neck, although I wasn’t thrilled about that either. My real issue was the stigma I had attached to Botox. I had never wanted to be one of “those women” who alter their bodies for cosmetic purposes. I had planned to age “gracefully.” I understood the pressures on women to conceal signs of aging, but I still judged women who resort to Botox or plastic surgery to do so. 

I still think there is power in resisting the patriarchal expectation that women can never age. But I regret judging women that make the choice to get Botox. And the fact that I internally stigmatized getting Botox, even for medical reasons, shows that I was allowing misogynistic ideologies to color my own thinking, just in a different way. Had anything other than the botulinum toxin been injected into my body, I would have had no problem with it. I knew getting Botox for medical reasons was different than getting it for cosmetic reasons. I knew that. And still, I was ashamed of getting it. 

The patriarchy doesn’t just pit men against women. It also pits women against women, and women against themselves. My own attitude about Botox was not only judgmental of other women; it was potentially harmful to me. I needed Botox, but I resisted getting it. I judged myself like I judged other women. My desire to resist misogyny meant that in a twisted way, I fell prey to it. I was reluctant to undergo a medical procedure that I really needed because I thought it made me a weaker woman. Getting Botox has helped me tremendously. I still get migraines, but they aren’t constant like they used to be. It was the right decision for me, and it is for many others, too. I hope I will remember that next time internalized sexism rears its ugly head inside of me.

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To a Mom

By: Christina Lee

To a mom who never caught the flu in the winter, who never forgot the names of her daughters’ childhood stuffed animals, who never complained about the distance between “home” and the home she has grown to know.

You held one baby in the crook of your left arm while gripping a toddler’s hand in your right hand and led two others trailing behind you. You are the same mom who smiles in the photograph taken the day of your college graduation. It was raining that afternoon, and the crowd of parents behind you, dressed in gray suits and long skirts, hold umbrellas above their heads like a nylon backdrop for your own personal photo shoot. On your face is the biggest smile I’ve seen, your eyes almost completely closed. A modest bouquet of congratulatory flowers rests with dignity in your hands, and to your right is your mom, a portly woman from whom you got your smiling eyes. Your dad on the left looks stoic. This was the same man who told you to put down the heaps of laundry and read another chapter from your textbook instead, who told you to stay out of the kitchen and go to college because you would be spending enough time in there once you were married. He was right.

In that photograph, you didn’t know that you wouldn’t be returning to your home country until 15 years later, arms full of toddlers and hair shorter than ever, no longer permed because quite frankly you didn’t have the time for that. At some point, you went back to the country from where you first earned your bachelor’s degree in agricultural science from one of the top universities in South Korea, and when I asked you about that bright-looking twentysomething in the photograph, you answered, “That was me at my graduation. I left for the United States not too long after that.” That’s when I knew something was not lining up.

One night, I sit at the foot of your bed while you are relaxing under the covers. I ask you, “Did you ever want to work?” You answer, “Of course I did.” So I respond, “Did you ever have a job?” You say that you had a desk job for a short while after graduation. Although I didn’t at the time, I now believe this to be a lie. The timeline of your rushed youth did not allow for such a thing. Now I wonder how it would feel to be you, the freedom of youth cut short by naivety that quickly led to marriage, immigration, and four kids. You, who have never worked a day in your life, then ask your daughters to please go to college and find a job because you know what it’s like to be a slave to domesticity.

It’s strange that “America” in Korean literally means “beautiful country.” I tell you this, and you respond with the story of South Koreans living in a pre-industrial world who dreamed of a better life in the West where everyone could supposedly find gold on the streets. You unwittingly held onto a version of this dream yourself, thinking that you would put your degree to use and become a working woman. Instead, you never became a naturalized citizen and never got that dream job.

I ask you why you never became a U.S. citizen. “I wouldn’t mind going back home sometime,” you say, vaguely. Within that statement lingers regret, longing, and conviction that the United States isn’t truly your home. It hurts me to understand that.

It hurts me to think that perhaps the only reason you stay here in the so-called beautiful country is because of the family you created, your loyalty to your husband, who is more American than you will ever be. You look at your eldest daughter and wish that she would not get married, and you begin panicking when she tells you that she’s moved in with her boyfriend. “They probably just live in the same apartment complex,” you say, completely in denial. Your mind wanders for the rest of the day.

Finally, you let her bring him home for the holidays but only once you know that she’s been promoted at her job at a large IT consulting company. You’re pleasantly surprised when you learn that she’s finally paid off her student loans and that her boyfriend has been working a steady job as an accountant. On your eldest daughter’s 24th birthday, I can see your relief, knowing that she is the same age as you when you had your first child but only has a job instead.

Once again, you panic when your daughter brings up marriage. “It would be easier for him to work if he finally gets his citizenship,” she says, explaining her South Korean-born boyfriend’s trouble with his work visa. Something about the suggestion haunts you. You furrow your brow and stay silent, as if you are traumatized again and again by the demands of marriage. You think marriage means finality, devotion, years and years of routine. You think about what you lost on your way to America. What is gone. What you can never get back.

“You just have to learn to live with him,” you say half-jokingly about your husband while he’s away at work. We are discussing his impatient personality and strange habits in one of our “self-improvement” talks about what it means to be a “good person” or how to turn out “better” than the previous generation. By “previous generation,” you mean yourself and your husband, and you wish that your children will not experience the behavioral side effects of enduring immigration, language barriers, and racism. It’s 3 p.m. No one is taking any of this seriously. You know that when your husband comes home in the evening that you will ask about his day, feel like the family is whole again, and spend the rest of the night happily catching up on missed conversations. Although you might never use the word “love” to describe your feelings toward him—because how cringeworthy and emotionally vulnerable is that?—you still know that this man is still the reason you remain in America and live each day with a sense of stability, safety, and security. You look at your four children, all born on American soil, and wonder if they resemble you or him more.

To a mom who hates watching American TV that pokes fun at Asian stereotypes because your immigration, your accent, your struggles, your lost dreams are not a couple lines on a script for the masses to laugh at. To a mom who hates watching these shows because oftentimes the representations are somewhat true. To a mom who always told her daughters to “brag” more, in a rough translation of a rather more humble piece of advice that means: “Be more confident.” To a mom who lives vicariously through her three daughters. To a mom who says, “Don’t ask me weird things” when I ask about your childhood, your college days, your dreams growing up, as if opening up about your true desires is “weird,” too indulgent, unnecessary.

What did you lose on the plane ride here? Were these things lost or sacrificed? I know you ask yourself this everyday without deciding on an answer because you watch your daughters grow up and become all the things you couldn’t be, feeling concern, pride, regret, and joy—all at once.

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Honey, I Shrunk My Tits: My Experience with Breast Reduction Surgery

By: Sai Siddhaye

In December of 2020, I underwent breast reduction surgery. After years of loathing my body and desperately wishing to change it, the tipping point came at the beginning of quarantine, when having no distractions from my body became overwhelming. My bra size was a 32F, which–as those educated in bra sizes will know–is uncomfortably large. My intense back pain, abysmal posture, and painful marks in my skin left by bras, which were constants in my life for so long, became unbearable. 

On top of all this, my already unhealthy body image was worsening in isolation. I had always resented my big chest, viewing it as something keeping me from achieving dainty femininity, but being quarantined and not having to perform gender made me realize how much I disliked having to cosplay femininity at all. It became clear to me that I was simply wearing inauthentic femininity as a façade to fulfill my expected social role, rather than acknowledging my inherent androgyny. Letting go of my gender performance revealed that the disconnect between my hyperfeminine curves and my authentic gender presentation was the source of many of my bodily insecurities. With even more discomfort and distress focused on my chest, I fantasized endlessly about getting breast reduction surgery, believing it was a faraway dream only accessible to celebrities and the like.

Remarkably, it was TikTok that came to my rescue. I happened upon a video of an ordinary woman describing her breast reduction and waxing poetic about all the good it did her, laying out the process and encouraging others to look into it. She spoke about her experience without the judgement that usually surrounds cosmetic surgery. What had seemed so out of my reach suddenly became much closer to me. 

I am very privileged to have access to health insurance, which made my process much easier than it would have been otherwise. After consulting my doctor and discussing the pros and cons of reduction mammoplasty, I was sent to a surgeon to iron out the details. The process of getting an insurance claim for my surgery was, as expected, a series of rather expensive hoops to jump through. My surgeon was very helpful in helping me game the system, so to speak; she recommended that I appeal to my insurance company from the angle of alleviating physical pain rather than body dysmorphic disorder to get the best possible insurance claim, and made the process simple and stress-free. After getting referrals from specialists and attending physical therapy sessions to ensure that mammoplasty was the best course of action, I was ready for surgery. 

My surgery took about 6 hours, and after an overnight stay at the hospital, I returned home sans-breasts. For the first few days, I did nothing but sleep and eat, sluggish as I was from the pain medication and residual anesthesia. This was probably for the best, as the swelling following the surgery was remedied by drains hung from my bandages like grotesque chains, which were just as distasteful as they were medically useful. This was probably the most unpleasant part of my recovery process. Though I began to heal surprisingly quickly, my incision scars were raw and painful for many weeks. In fact, the first time I was allowed to shower after the surgery, the sight of myself stitched up like Frankenstein’s monster–combined with my low blood pressure–was enough to make me faint right onto the bathroom floor. 

I’m now approximately two months post-op, and since I hit the one-month mark it has been smooth sailing. My incisions are still sore, but I can move normally and don’t have to wear gauze anymore. It has also been a year since I took my first steps towards my breast reduction, and it is one of the best decisions I have ever made. Taking control over my body has been an empowering experience that I strongly encourage everyone to experiment with.

My experience with cosmetic surgery has taught me two big lessons: repairing your body image requires more than changing your appearance, but making the choice to change your body should absolutely not be stigmatized. I am so much happier with the size of my chest now; I have far less back pain, moving around has become easier, and looking in the mirror is far less unpleasant. But changing my body has not fixed my issues with gender and body image. That is something I have to work on every day, and takes much more time and effort than surgery does. Regardless, if it weren’t for the stigma surrounding cosmetic surgery (especially mammoplasty), taking these steps to feel more comfortable in my body would have been so much easier. It is worth analyzing why our culture vilifies body modification, because unpacking it will give countless people the freedom to heal. 

To anyone considering breast reduction surgery: my experience has been overwhelmingly positive, and I am immensely grateful that I was able to have this experience. I strongly encourage you to speak with a medical professional and see if it is the right step for you too.

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A Word Or Two On Gender

By: Nicole Wagoner

I had a conversation with an older female mentor the other day. We talked about gender and how we both felt about it.

One notable thing she said was, “I never had to think about that stuff when I was your age.” (That stuff being gender) “It’s so confusing for you kids. I never had to question if I was non binary or if I was a guy. I just was who I was.”

I’m paraphrasing, but what stuck out to me about what she said was, “I was who I was.”

I think that’s the beautiful thing about gender. It’s a social construct, but it is one that helps us define how we feel on the inside.

So I often ask myself, what’s my gender?

The conclusion I have come to is that I don’t have one, but here’s where it gets confusing.

I like gendered terms along the female spectrum. I like my partner to call me his girlfriend and my mom often lovingly calls me her girl, which I don’t mind.

So this makes me question my gender all over again. Am I really a girl? Am I faking being non binary for attention?

The conclusion I have come to down boils down to two things.

  1. I am still new to my gender, and I am so used to being called girl and girlfriend that it doesn’t bother me to be called those terms.

The way I came to this conclusion is that my partner, James, has been calling me his partner, despite me expressing I am comfortable with partner and girlfriend. It’s almost like he knew more about my gender than I did, because the more he calls me partner, the weirder it feels on the rare occasion my mom refers to me as his girlfriend or his friends refer to me as such. 

  1. I am still aligned with my biological sex as a female.

I am very feminine presenting. If you saw me on the street you would probably not guess that I was non binary. And up until 2020, I did not even realize I wasn’t a girl. I would proclaim myself as a strong woman, and while I am still biologically a woman, it feels odd to declare that. I would rather declare myself to be a strong person, but at the same time I feel like declaring myself as a strong woman is somewhat accurate. Because I still get harassed on the street. I still have to worry about getting a lesser paycheck than a man does. While gender is a societal construct, my gender does not define all of my societal experiences, and unfortunately, I still face the discrimination that biological women do.

So maybe that is why every once in a while I find myself wanting to declare myself a strong, independent woman, because even though I am not a woman at heart, I am still taking on the adversity faced by women.

So I find myself questioning my own feelings as a non binary person. Am I not non binary because I feel attached to my experiences as a biological woman? Am I not non binary if I feel ok being referred to as a girlfriend?

I don’t know if I’m being honest with you. Every day I question whether my experiences and emotions are valid. Because I look at a feminine presenting biological woman and wonder if I want to be her. I love putting on wigs and looking like what society considers a woman. But the day I chopped my hair off, I felt so seen by myself and I felt so validated. I felt like I was myself. So if I feel like myself while feminine presenting, even though I also feel like myself when I’m presenting androgynously, am I really non binary?

But sometimes I remember how cis people look at gender. I don’t think a cis person has ever looked at Stitch from Lilo and Stitch and envied how much androgyny the little gremlin has. I don’t think cis people feel the way I do when my partner stopped saying, “Ladies first,” and jokingly started saying, “Enbies first.” It was such a simple gesture and I don’t know if he knows how much it meant to me, and how validated it makes me feel.

In the end, I think it boils down to this: I just am who I am. It’s like my mentor said. I was born a woman and I have faced the adversity a woman has faced, and I cannot change that. I am biologically predisposed to some diseases because of my sex, and I cannot change that. But I also cannot change the way my brain feels when I look in the mirror and perceive myself as androgynous. I cannot change the way I feel when my friends use they pronouns for me (even though I use she as well.) The one thing I can change is how I show myself to the world, and how I tell the world about myself. I am here to tell the world I am non binary, no matter what my self doubt says sometimes, and no matter what the world says sometimes.

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Practicing Self Love During the Holiday Season

By: Shellsea Lomeli

There are so many things about the holiday season that I absolutely love. Late-night drives while blasting my favorite Christmas songs, driving through the neighborhoods that deck their houses out in holiday lights, wearing matching pajamas with my family, and more. I love the feeling of joy, family, and friendship. However, holidays can also have some downsides. For me, this time of year tends to evoke feels of guilt in situations such as straying away from a diet, not being able to afford a certain gift for a certain friend, and not spending enough time with family. 

During situations like these, we can often start to feel bad and blame ourselves when, in reality, we should be practicing self-love instead. The holidays are all about spreading love and joy but sometimes we forget that we need to try and give those feelings ourselves too, not just our loved ones. 

In hopes of alleviating some of the guilt that the holidays can bring, I’ve written out a few reminders for myself and for anyone who needs it. 

1. Allow Yourself to Recharge

If you’re like me, the holiday season means having a million things to do with a limited time to do them. From holiday gift shopping to getting together with loved ones (covid-safe, of course), I always feel my energy running out during this time of the year. When my social battery – or just energy in general – runs out, I often find myself feeling bad for not dedicating enough time to my family and friends. Or for not completing the list of things I set out to accomplish that day. We often expect too much from ourselves which is why it is so important to take time for yourself. Taking care of yourself is NOTHING to feel guilty about. 

Some of my favorite ways to destress are painting, going on a solo car ride while blasting my favorite music, or watching a sappy movie on Netflix, and maybe even shedding a tear or two. 

2. Money Doesn’t Equal Love

As a college student, money is often tight. A part-time job that pays $13 an hour doesn’t necessarily allow for buying your friends the glamorous gifts you wish you could. And that’s okay! Expensive gifts are not the only way to show someone that you care about them even though our capitalist society likes to say otherwise. 

Try not to stress about money this holiday season. Your mental health will thank you. Instead of focusing on the price tag, focus on the meaning of the gift you’re gifting. Personally, my favorite type of present is something that is personal and thoughtful. I’d like to believe a lot of other people feel the same. 

I recommend checking out customizable sites like Shutterfly or VistaPrint. If you’re trying to support small businesses, check out Etsy which has a lot of personalized gifts to choose from. Last Christmas, I used Shutterfly to make a customized calendar for one of my best friends. Each month had a different theme and was decorated with pictures of our friends, inside jokes, her favorite music artists, and more. I had so much fun making it and she loved it. This gift brought so much joy to both of us and it costed almost nothing.

3. Enjoy the Holiday Food 

As someone who’s experienced body image issues for quite some time, this particular piece of advice is probably the hardest for me to execute. Holiday food is my favorite, especially during Thanksgiving, but I’ve often found myself either limiting what I eat or feeling incredibly guilty after a holiday meal. As much as we are told otherwise by a society that often values “skinny” over “fat”, eating IS self-care. Food fuels our bodies, our minds, and even provides pleasure. It’s a good thing, even if the meal you’re eating is characterized as “unhealthy”. So if you’re considering getting a second helping of pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving dinner and the only thing that is holding you back are the calories or grams of sugar of the food, eat the pie. Make your tastebuds happy. It’s okay! 

While you’re sending love to your friends and family this holiday season, remember to send love to yourself too. You are worthy of it.