Bits and Bobs for the Week – April 21st

So, I decided to watch the marathon after all. It didn’t make sense not to, seeing how I live just down the street from the final part of it. I got lucky and snagged a spot against the fence just before the banner announcing runners were one kilometer from the finish line. It’s rather humbling to see so many people doing something you know you have no chance of ever achieving. Big respect to the man who looked about 80 years old but is probably healthier than I will ever be.

Highlights included:

  • The man running in a Celtic FC top. I hope somebody buys him a munchy box or two as soon as he gets back home. After running 26.2 miles, you’ve earned a few thousand calories of indulgence.
  • Some people write their names on their bibs or tops, and some people write them on their arms with a Sharpie. That way, the crowd can cheer you on. One true Masshole decided that instead of his name, he wanted to hear the crowd shouting YANKEES SUCK, so he wrote that on his skin.
  • A leg amputee did the course on forearm crutches. WHAT ARE YOUR WRISTS MADE OF AND WHERE CAN I GET SOME OF IT?
  • I got to chill out next to two whippets, who are perfect dogs because they’re just greyhounds in a more manageable size without all the hyperactivity of those tiny Italian greyhounds. Also, they look like marathon runners.

Anyway, without getting all mushy, it really was a beautiful day. The world came to Boston; the four winners were a South African, an American adopted from a Russian orphanage when she was 6, a Kenyan, and an American who emigrated from Eritrea as a child. Tatyana McFadden took home the women’s wheelchair title on her 25th birthday, and immediately handed her gold olive wreath to Carlos Arredondo, hero of last year’s disaster who has seen more than enough pain in his lifetime. McFadden’s story is fascinating – she was born with spina bifida and somehow survived her first three weeks of life with a gaping hole in her back before a surgeon could operate. Then, given up by her birth mother, she was left in a St. Petersburg orphanage that didn’t even have the money for a wheelchair, so she walked on her hands for her first six years. She was adopted by an American government commissioner for disabilities. She’s a summer and winter Paralympian – she won a skiing medal in Sochi, then won the London Marathon a month later, setting a record in the process. What a wonderful 25th birthday present for somebody who was lucky to have survived her first month considering she was so neglected by everybody around her. A few days ago, she met with the family of Martin Richard, the 8-year-old boy who died in the bombing. Martin’s sister Jane survived, but had her leg amputated. With a prosthesis, she is now getting involved in basketball, running, dance, and swimming. She has probably the greatest role model imaginable. 

Ernst Van Dyk, men’s wheelchair winner, just secured his 10th Boston title. Yes, tenth. Rita Jeptoo made history by being the first woman to win the foot race three times and breaking the record while she was at it. Considering she took a few years off to have a baby (which isn’t particularly easy to do when you’re built like a distance runner) it’s all the more impressive. And as for Meb Keflezighi, he’s now Boston’s fourth sports team even though he lives in California. I hadn’t heard of him until I saw all the ads on bus shelters that said GO MEB GO starting a few weeks ago, but he was the highest-placing American marathoner in the London Olympics. Again, not to get all mushy, but along with McFadden he is the American dream in action. His father walked from war-torn Eritrea to Sudan, then moved to Italy where he worked multiple jobs for five years until he had enough money to send for the rest of his family. They later immigrated to the United States, where Meb excelled academically and athletically, eventually getting into UCLA. A naturalized citizen, he was the first American man to win the marathon since 1983, and, at 38 years old, the oldest winner since the 1930s. And he is every bit as American as anybody else here. He planned to run last year, but got injured, so he watched from near the finish line on Boylston Street. And he left to go do commentary at a Copley Square hotel only minutes before the bombs went off. He too has become close to the Richard family, and raised ten grand for the foundation named after their son.

So, yes, yesterday was a great day for Boston to show off the best of America and welcome the rest of the world. I think this city did them proud. Hopefully now the marathon can be known more for the resilience of the people who ran in it, rather than for what was forced upon it last year.

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Bits and Bobs for the Week – April 14th

Right, so, it’s April 14th. Tomorrow is a big anniversary in Boston, so I am planning to avoid all news media outlets. In fact, I think I’d better do that until next Tuesday, because the marathon is taking place a week from today. 

I can’t do it. Sorry. Maybe it’s callous of me to say so, but I really don’t want to be a part of any of the memorializing, the eulogizing, the endless re-evoking of memory that’s going to be happening nonstop for the next week. Of course, I feel very sorry for the families and friends of the three people who lost their lives, and I can’t even imagine what the people who suffered life-changing injuries last April are going through. But being part of the constant displays of memory that have been going on since this time last year will not bring back lives or limbs, and at a certain point, repeatedly revisiting trauma stops being helpful and only causes more pain. I didn’t even live here this time last year, but hearing about the bombing and seeing the reminders again and again – it wears you down. For the sake of my own mental health I do not want to get drawn into it, so the only thing I can do is avoid all the various ceremonies and tributes and news articles that are going to come at everybody in Boston full-on for the next week.

Don’t get me wrong – public outpourings of grief and mourning can be very useful: they show people who were personally affected that they are not alone and not forgotten, and that there is a network of people around them who want to show that they care. And a one-year anniversary is extremely important for commemoration of any major event. The problem is, there is another group of people affected by the bombing – a rather sizeable one, I suspect – who are feeling very alone and overlooked precisely because of all the public displays of “Boston Strong,” the memorials, the news pieces. They’re people who were traumatized by what they witnessed, and for whom every recollection of the day’s events re-ignites that horror. They would like to walk down Boylston Street and not be constantly reminded of the bombing, the blood, the suffering. They would like to one day hang out in their city without seeing everything from shoe shops to schoolkids displaying “Boston Strong” on signs and shirts. They can’t heal so long as the bombing is constantly being thrust in their face – and let’s be honest, there hasn’t been one day since last April 15th that the bombing wasn’t in the news in Boston. Things are only going to get worse once Dzokhar Tsarnaev’s trial gets underway. So perhaps the right thing to do – and I know I’m treading some very delicate ground here, so don’t get me wrong – is for, after this year’s marathon, Bostonians to agree to grieve more privately. Acknowledge that there has been a year of public mourning, and that the next step is perhaps to step back a bit and begin to bury the bombing. This does not mean forgetting what happened or forgetting the people who died, or that people should quit giving to the One Fund. Not at all. It’s simply an acknowledgment that, while we all feel very sad about it, there is a time when you have to move the pain indoors. Take down the banners. Newspapers, radio, and TV outlets should only report on the bombing when there’s real news about it. It doesn’t mean you care any less about the victims. In fact, it acknowledges that if you weren’t directly affected, you realize your pain is distinctly different from that of the people who were injured, who lost a friend or relative, or who were on the front lines of providing help. You have done your bit of grieving in public, and that’s enough, and now it is time for you to move on.

I may very well be giving an opinion where I’m not at all welcome, seeing how I only moved here last June, but this is my rationale and this is why I’ll be avoiding Boylston Street until next Tuesday. It is the same rationale for why I treat September 11th and July 7th like any other days even though they are both significant dates to the two places I call home. At a certain point, for my own sanity, I had to say enough. The grief of the people who lost loved ones is not my grief, and sometimes the most supportive thing you can do is return to normalcy.

 
It is also worth noting – and thanks to Blackstonian.com for this stat – that 35 people have died from gun violence in Boston since the 2013 marathon. A further 200 have been shot and survived. Those 35 people were no less loved than the three who died at the Marathon, and those 200 people are dealing with many of the same post-traumatic issues as the 260 wounded in the blasts. Though, chances are that unless you knew any of the victims personally or it happened in your neighborhood, you don’t know the names of the people killed by guns. The idea of “One Boston” rings somewhat hollow for many people living in areas of the city struggling with gun violence and general lack of resources, where killings don’t make the news. Whether it happens on Boylston Street or in Roxbury or Dorchester, death is final, life is precious, and all those people were somebody’s children. End of.

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I’ll admit it: I really like Kathy Griffin. She cracks me up, and I suspect that a huge part of her appeal is in knowing that even when she’s at her rudest and crudest, and we’re all thinking, “Oh no, you did NOT just say that,” there’s secretly a part of us that agrees with what she’s saying. We just don’t have the balls to say it ourselves, because we know it’s wrong to poke fun at other people, even if they are famous and living in the public eye. 

Now, turn that kind of criticism on yourself. Feels a bit awkward, yeah? Of course, you shouldn’t give out what you can’t take – but when you can be deeply self-critical, and lace that criticism with self-deprecating wit, you might find that, indeed, plenty of people agree with what you’re thinking. And that leads me to this next bit…

I want to plug a project. I love giggling over Your Kickstarter Sucks as much as anybody, but when I find a Kickstarter that doesn’t suck, I feel like promoting it. This has happened precisely three times. Here’s the third: You should give some money to Peter James Field for his book of illustrations from the past decade of his visual diaries.

Field works as a freelance illustrator in Brighton (the one in England, not the one in west Boston). Columbia people, you may have seen some of his portraits in the university magazine. Or if you’ve flown United and paged through their magazine, you’ve seen three portraits of his in every issue, capturing people who have something to say about that month’s destination of choice. On my last trip back to London, Virgin Atlantic gave us copies of the Independent before we boarded, and I opened up my copy straight onto an illustration I immediately knew was his. Something about the government, or banking, or government and banking policy. Field’s freelance work goes all over, but this book he’s putting out there on Kickstarter is an altogether more personal project – it’s 10 years of his visual diary. Every month, Field posts a half-dozen drawings to his website. Several pictures capture what he sees out and about in Brighton. Sometimes he’ll turn the pencil on himself – if not on his face, then on exactly what he’s seeing as he draws, complete with his hands in the frame. The result is a deeply touching chronicle of a life in moments.

What I love about Field’s diary sketches is that they take something intensely personal – a diary – and present scenes and situations in a manner that makes you acutely aware of shared experiences. You watch Field’s technique evolve, see him move from Dorset to Brighton, go through difficult months and happier ones, all with wry and self-deprecating commentary. All the while you take various glimpses at somebody else’s life – somebody who is clearly very interested in pop culture, watching shows like Big Brother, while simultaneously we watch him through his diary sketches. Amidst the anonymity of the internet, Field does not know who his own “Big Brother” is – he simply puts his life on display, warts and all, and lets himself be watched. He has selected which images he wants to present to the world, but these pictures do not seem at all staged. Rather, they come across as candid and honest, free of the artifice that characterizes the “front stage” performances we so often present to the world on social media, choosing to show only our best sides and tailoring our public faces to exactly how we wish other people would see us. Viewing Field’s work, you feel like you’re peering “backstage” without being intrusive. You’ve been let into a life that is surprisingly like your own – but the difference is, he’s showing a side of himself that you wouldn’t be brave enough to show of yourself. Peter James Field’s diary book is like a reality show, minus all the cynicism you feel when the lens of television is involved.


(August 2007, peterjamesfield.co.uk)
We all feel sad and lonely, but we’re not willing to admit it. When Peter James Field self-deprecatingly sketches his TV or his empty can of lager and admits feeling unfulfilled, we’re secretly nodding our heads in recognition and relief. Somebody said it! Somebody said what we’re all secretly feeling – we just didn’t have the courage to say it ourselves.


(December 2007, peterjamesfield.co.uk)

It’s also a time capsule – in September 2008, at the start of the financial crisis (that was the month Lehman Brothers declared bankruptcy), Field captures a billboard for the Bradford & Bingley bank offering 6.7% fixed-rate mortgages. That same month, Bradford & Bingley’s share price dropped to a record low and the bank announced hundreds of jobs would be lost – a scene that would be repeated again and again over Britain. The bank was part-nationalized, part-sold off. Field’s innocuous-looking nighttime scene doesn’t come with any more commentary than its location: Sackville Road Railway Bridge, Hove. A mundane advertisement like this is not a political statement. It’s not something unusual or shocking. Nor is it tinged with anger or resentment at a world gone wrong. In his diary, the billboard is simply what is present before him, displayed without commentary, something ordinary that gains meaning only when time passes. And maybe life doesn’t have to be extraordinary in order to merit being remembered, etched in ink, put into a book – a rather sacrilegious suggestion in an age of celebrity and narcissism.

Also: can we all just take a moment and recognize that this is a pencil drawing. It is not a photograph put through Photoshop. It is a pencil drawing. Considering I can’t draw for toffee (evidence available upon request), I’m in awe. You should pledge. You really should. Art books are not cheap to print – from my [brief] experience in publishing, I know that anything heavily illustrated is incredibly difficult to get printed, and if you think it’s hard getting a book deal as an new fiction writer, it’s probably 100 times harder for an artist when you remember that publishing houses are looking to make a profit and books from living artists generally don’t, no matter how wonderful the content. Self-publishing makes a lot of sense. Pledge. Pledge pledge pledge.

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Happy Passover. Oscar ate my chometz.
chometz

I’ve been in New York City quite a bit recently. Something might happen, something might not, but I’d be quite happy if something did, and no, I can’t be any less cryptic. What I can say is that New York always feels right, the way London always feels right. I’m essentially a nobody, like 99.999% of the population, but when you walk down a wide avenue and feel like you own the place, you know you’re in your element, you know something has gone terribly right and you’d better do all you can to keep it that way.
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This is an old picture, but there’s a bit of me that will always want to be photographed under the bright lights no matter what. Eh, who am I kidding. There’s all of me still there.

My mother’s got this saying that it is fine to be a janitor so long as you own the building. After moving around so much throughout my 20s, I think I understand that a bit more now.

On (Ethnic) Beauty

Despite all the gains women have made in education and careers, there is still the perception that smart women can’t be very beautiful and beautiful women are not that smart. Furthermore, smart women aren’t supposed to worry about how they look. We’re supposed to be above such silly insecurities. We should not obsess about our physical flaws. We should be confident enough to shrug off criticism about our appearance. Well, no, it doesn’t work like that, because cerebral women are still human. We are not different creatures. We just so happen to have the same insecurities as everybody else.

Mine? Mine deal with my hair. I have long hated my hair. When you think of the typical Jewish woman, chances are your mental image includes the blessing of plenty of thick, dark hair. My grandmother on my Jewish side got it. My brother got loads of thick straight hair, and he doesn’t appreciate it AT ALL. But me? Nah, I got my hair from the non-Jewish Polish side. It’s thin, it’s lank, it’s so greasy that there is no way I can go without washing it every day. And, inexplicably, so many Jewish women I know with typical “Jewish” hair hate it! I don’t understand. What’s not to like? Volume, texture, everything I don’t have and never will without dropping a few grand on extensions, which I never will because that’s an entire other ethical can of worms. I see other Jewish women, and I think: IF YOU HATE IT SO MUCH, GIVE ME HALF YOUR HAIR. I will put it to good use. When I was younger, it felt unfair to me, in a way: I’m as Jewish as all those other girls (well, if you go by blood I’m not, but that’s the tricky thing about “Jewish” being both an ethnicity and a religion, and I have a big problem with people who hold fast to the definition of Jewish as being solely through matrilineal descent; specifically, they can tell it to my product-of-intermarriage tuchas), so why can’t I have a yard of glossy tresses like they do? Big upset in that battle in the gene pool, bro.

Eventually, I had to learn how to make my hair work for me. When I was 14 I got my first pixie cut, and with the exception of a few hopeful but ultimately fruitless experiments since then, I haven’t looked back. I’ve learned to embrace having hair short enough to ruffle up, spike, and spray into anti-gravity loveliness. In San Francisco, a Polish man who knew what to do with the little I have on my head cut my hair in ways that made it look as big as possible. So I’ll never have that long, luxurious hair that magazines tell us men prefer – and yes, like every other woman, I have days when I feel ugly and unfeminine, and there are people out there who do think my hair looks ugly and unfeminine – but over the years, I’ve become more and more comfortable like that, because I made the choice to keep it short. Yes, as a teenager it did bother me when I would be referred to as “her with the lesbian haircut,” but quite frankly I don’t care about that anymore. Anybody who thinks they know anything about my sexual orientation because of what I do with some dead cells atop my head is too stupid to be worthy of my time – that’s all there is to it. Funny enough, having lived in both countries, I have found there to be a huge divide between the US and the UK with regard to women having short hair; specifically, more women in the latter embrace it and love it and are confident enough to make it theirs. In America, it’s strange that when Jennifer Lawrence or Lena Dunham chop their hair short, it’s cute and stylish, but when a regular girl does it, it’s butch. Now, I’m never going to be a movie or TV star, but I am happy with hair that’s a little different. I can do so much more with my hair when it’s short, and it’s simply more flattering than long hair on me. Seriously, if it grows down my shoulders, my ears poke through and it hangs in strings. Why would I deliberately look worse than I do now just because women are “supposed” to have long hair? Get out of here. 

Hair is relatively easy. Specifically, it grows. If you hate one cut, you wait a few months so that you have something to work with and then you change it up. But your bone structure doesn’t change unless you take more drastic action. And that’s where we get to my nose. It definitely comes from my Jewish side. It’s big. I know it’s big. You don’t need to tell me it’s big – but for some reason, people do. I guess they think I don’t own a mirror, and that I have somehow gone through nearly three decades of life without noticing that I’m probably close to two standard deviations above the mean in that department. How very kind of them to inform me.

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Yes, there’s a solution plenty of Jewish women have turned to: cosmetic surgery. And the thought of it turns my stomach, not just because I’ve seen how it is done and the idea of someone going up through my nostrils to shave away bone makes me want to never, ever stand within ten feet of a scalpel ever again. The way I see it, if I got a nose job, it would be a betrayal. It would be a total denial of my background, of my ancestry. It would be an acknowledgement that all the people who say that ethnic is ugly are somehow right. My nose functions perfectly well the way it is. I mean, I can breathe through it. That’s its purpose. And if it works fine, if there’s nothing wrong with it, then why would it need surgery? It doesn’t.

There are some people who think a perfectly healthy nose is wrong. Those people have put countless children of plastic surgeons through very expensive educations. For some reason, plenty of otherwise intelligent women think that beauty has to involve pain, and, as if they’re saints suffering righteously for a higher cause, voluntarily put themselves into situations where they are cut and stitched and left bruised and bloody. This is madness. Anything involving anesthesia is A Big Deal. Any procedure where you have permanent alterations made to the one body you have should be done for a hell of a good reason, and I don’t consider “I don’t like my ethnic-looking facial features” to be a good reason. Every Jewish girl who gets rhinoplasty is playing right into the idea that we’re not good-looking just the way we are, and that we need to spend big money being “fixed” because we are somehow wrong by default. I refuse to play into that way of thinking. I will not be a pawn for people who think Jewish women are a target market for permanent alteration and that we need such alteration to be truly comfortable in our own skins.

Perhaps it makes me a horrible traitor to the current definition of feminism, but I am anti-boob job (and trust me, I’ve had plenty of people make fun of my small chest by insinuating there’s something deeply unfeminine about it) for the same reason I’m anti-most-cosmetic-surgery: performing major surgery on a perfectly healthy body makes no sense to me. I don’t think you’re a bad person if you get implants, and if your nose is stressing you out so badly that your mental health truly suffers then you have every right to do what you want with your body. But there is something very, very sinister to me about how perfectly normal body parts get pathologized, especially when there are ethnic implications to your nose or eyes or body type. At Columbia, I took a sociology of gender course that just so happened to be held at the all-women college counterpart, Barnard. That course was a barrel of laughs for a variety of reasons, but one particular episode I remember involved how the professor seemed to think that state-sponsored rhinoplasty for North African girls in the Netherlands (I think it was the Netherlands, don’t quote me on that) who were upset about their noses looking too “ethnic” was a wonderful thing. Yeah, forgive me for killing the new empowerment buzz, but how about focusing on racism being the problem, not the ethnic facial features themselves? Isn’t there a huge societal problem if these girls feel their noses are so wrong in European society that permanently altering them is the only way forward? I am not drinking the Kool-Aid if it means believing that woman are empowered because we can pay thousands of dollars to have somebody permanently alter perfectly healthy body parts. (None of this applies to plastic surgery to restore what your appearance used to be – like reconstructive surgery after cancer or an accident.)

I won’t criticise her for it, because I don’t have to live in the public eye the way she does, but I was disappointed to hear that Rebecca Adlington, double gold medalist and arguably the greatest British swimmer of all time (but not Jewish, I should mention), may have had a nose job. It means that people bothered her about her nose so much that she couldn’t shrug it off anymore. And now, of course, the press has to talk about her cosmetic surgery, making her nose into an issue again. Shame on Matthew Norman, who, in commenting, “Good for her” for having “the sense to buy a little artifice,” reinforces the idea that the problem is what’s on Becky’s face and not how people treat her. He asks, “Who wouldn’t do the same if they could?” Stupid question, Matthew. Barbra Streisand, that’s who. She’s got a big nose and she can afford the best plastic surgery money can buy, but she hasn’t gotten a nose job because it could change her singing voice. And that voice is her livelihood. She lives on camera, but without her voice, she has no career.

Image

“When I was young, everyone would say, “You gonna have your nose done?” It was like a fad, all the Jewish girls having their noses done every week at Erasmus Hall High School, taking perfectly good noses and whittling them down to nothing. The first thing someone would have done would be to cut my bump off. But I love my bump, I wouldn’t cut my bump off.”

And you can add me to the list of people who wouldn’t do it, either. I don’t care if I won the lottery and pretty much had a guarantee that nothing would go wrong in the process – I would not do it. I’d feel fake. Who the hell would I be trying to impress? Anybody who’d judge me on nothing but my nose isn’t worth my time anyway. Love me, love how nature made me. Apparently it’s not enough that Becky Adlington is one of the world’s fastest women in the water – she has to look like a supermodel as well in order to get a little peace. The problem is not with her nose, it’s with what people expect of her. And while I understand wanting all that constant criticism to just go away already, I think the only way those people are going to shut up is if we love what we look like and OWN what we look like. And step one of owning it is refusing to hand it over to a surgeon to shave part of it off. So if Becky is happy with a new nose, that’s her prerogative, but I wish people hadn’t bullied her so much so that her nose even attracted that much attention in the first place. I wish it could have been a non-issue. When we own our big noses, when we kick away criticism, we push that issue toward the trash bin where it belongs.

 
My idea of a real, unapologetic Jewish beauty, at least until she wrecked herself on drugs and alcohol, is Amy Winehouse.
Amy
She wasn’t ever going to be the gorgeous pin-up blonde English rose, and she knew it, so she made what she had work for her. And while she was undeniably English, a daughter of North London, she was also distinctively Jewish. According to her dad, she loved going to the East End as a child and visiting all the places her grandparents and great-grandparents had lived and worked. Even as a famous adult, she went to her extended family’s Shabbat dinners. Her natural hair was thick, black, and frizzy – so she strapped a massive fake beehive to it and played into that sixties style. She transformed the stereotype of the loud, overbearing Jewish woman into a full-on personality with a soulful voice to back it up. If you’re going to be Amy freakin’ Winehouse, if you’re going to be one of the most outspoken and brutally honest singer-songwriters to come out of your generation, why not wing your thick black eyeliner all the way out? Amy wasn’t conventionally “pretty,” but she was unforgettable, she was unique. And she kicked ass in the long tradition of Jewish women doing what they have to do to make it in the world. In her lyrics, I hear echoes of a long Jewish tradition of blatantly confronting your sorrows and misfortunes and stating them in public, even the ones that are entirely of your own shameful making, because if you don’t, you might as well curl up and give up. Jewish women know they don’t make history being quiet. Can you think of a louder, more in-your-face British Jewish woman than Amy Winehouse? She’s dead, but you won’t forget her voice, or what she looked like, or the life she lived. (By the way, back in college, I had an internship at a magazine that shall remain nameless, and one of my first tasks was to transcribe an interview with Amy Winehouse. The staff in New York couldn’t understand her accent on the low-quality recording, but I could, and so I got to work on the tape. One sentence that ended up on the cutting-room floor was – I’m not joking – “Jewish girls, we’re hairy!” Yes, Amy. Yes, we are. But I don’t think you had to remind us.)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ExwsAGiP-8A

Ditto Justine Frischmann, of 90s band Elastica. Expensively-educated daughter of a Holocaust survivor responsible for Centre Point, she could have all-too-easily been painted as a stereotypical pampered Jewish girl – and, let’s face it, we’ve done pretty well as an ethnic group, so nasty depictions of shallow, airheaded “Jewish Princesses” are still alive and well (most recently bolstered by the most revolting piece of television trash I have ever had the misfortune of watching). Instead, she darted to the opposite side of the spectrum, camped out there, and made it home.
jf
She wrote punkish, throwaway rock songs about topics that “nice Jewish girls” aren’t supposed to broach. I remember that when I read about her in the music press as a teenager, half the time there were snide jibes about her looking like a man, and hidden within them, insinuations that her musician boyfriends were perhaps using her as a stand-in for the men they would rather be with. Been there, had that – but without the fame, of course. I’ve heard the stinging comments about how, because my body more closely resembles a 14-year-old boy’s than the average adult woman’s nowadays, any man who wants it must be covering his desire for the real thing. Justine Frischmann is probably a big reason why, when I was younger, I wasn’t really bothered by such comments. Why? Because Justine was effortlessly cool and comfortable in her own skin. She projected the persona that if you crossed her, she either wouldn’t care at all, or she’d make you regret it. You couldn’t ever say she was “just a pretty face” because she wasn’t a pretty face, she was a bad-ass face, as she was happy being like that. You could call her mannish, you could point out her short hair and leather jacket, but at the end of the day, she was the famous one, and she was the one going home with the men that thousands of girls had pinned up on their bedroom walls. Perhaps she wasn’t the most skilful musician out there, but she made her mark, she captured the mid-nineties, that’s not bad for a nice Jewish girl.

Justine Frischman
So there. Thanks, Justine.

And as a “ethnic” woman, I try my best to make what I have work for me. If I’m going to say that I’m not ashamed of who I am, and that I’ve proud of what my ancestors had to survive to get me to where I am today, then I have to own the physical manifestations of my background – or at least show that there’s nothing undesirable about them. I have a big nose, so I wear it. It sticks out and so do I, because I don’t fancy hiding away from the world, I feel like confronting it head-on and sticking that nose everywhere I think it belongs. If you end up remembering me as Her With The Big Nose, at least you’re remembering me, at least I’m not anonymous. In my opinion, if my facial features are big and sharp and noticeable, then I have carte blanche to make the rest of my face follow suit – so if I want to wear bright eyeshadow or lipstick, that’s my prerogative. I’m never going to be a blonde bombshell, and I don’t want to be blonde. I think dark hair can be striking, and furthermore, it’s me. Blonde looks great on people who are naturally that way, or who can pull it off, but seriously, how ridiculous would I look with these thick black eyebrows and a bleached-out scalp? To me, looking like you’re trying way too hard is far worse than looking ethnic. My lank hair doesn’t work in a conventionally feminine long style, so I cut it off and make it look big with assorted pastes and hairspray, because it’s fun to try different things that I can wash away with simple shampoo and water if they don’t flatter me. It’s not that easy to change your nose, but hair grows back, hair is made for fun and experimentation. Ain’t it great to be a mammal? Sound.
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It works for me, and if other people don’t like it, they can move on to the next woman – and part of shifting from girl to woman is learning that not everybody is going to like you, not everybody has to think you’re fantastic, and it doesn’t matter. Getting the world to like you shouldn’t be your life goal, because it’s utterly unattainable. That’s life.
Drop out or get over it.

By the way, speaking of Rebecca Adlington, a few months ago she participated in a celebrity episode of UK quiz show The Chase. Guess who was a contestant in the new US version of the same show? That’s right, THIS LADY.

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…And yes, I can say it, WE WON! We split the winnings equally three ways. The episode aired at the end of January, but we filmed in August of last year, so I had to keep my big mouth shut about the result for quite some time. It was my first time on TV and I had a blast. I’ve always loved trivia and doing pub quizzes – I read everything in sight and so I ended up with loads of useless knowledge floating around; how else do you think I know how nose jobs are done? – and now I finally have something to show for it. I auditioned on a whim shortly after I moved to Boston, and I didn’t expect to make it to the second round…but then I did, and got called back for a third time…and then, OH MY DAYS, THEY’RE FLYING ME TO LOS ANGELES. I didn’t expect to be back in California so soon. My teammates were fantastic guys I got to know while we were waiting in the green room for a few hours beforehand – Louis is hilarious and Miguel is a brilliant lawyer who went to Berkeley for law school, so we had something to talk about. Winning that money feels like it kind of makes up for the earnings I forfeited by going back to grad school for three years. Most of it has gone into savings, because let’s face it, my very own shed-sized flat in far North London won’t come for free.

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It was strange seeing myself on television, because – to be completely honest – I didn’t really like how I looked. Cue plenty of moments of, “Holy crap, my nose looks huge, my jaw looks saggy, WHAT.” During every break, the makeup dude had to spray my hair to stop it looking completely flat. Plus, I wasn’t wearing my own clothes, the ones I had brought along because I feel attractive and confident in them – the cameramen said they looked distorted on screen (one was fuschia, one was orange, both had layers of ruffle-y fabric), so the wardrobe department had to rustle up something quick. So if you’re thinking, “Kite, really, that low neck on the dress and that cut of the waistline don’t do you any favors,” yes, I KNOW. And isn’t this the ridiculously silly part of it? That when I’m supposed to be proud of myself for finally being able to cash in on a skill, my attention gets occupied by my physical flaws? Why am I paying more attention to my less-than-perfect appearance and not to the fact that I just did well for myself? It’s natural to think like this, but it’s also ridiculous, it’s such a waste of time, and it’s an example of how we women play in to our own insecurity and hold ourselves back. And if I want to get a move on in life, I have to quit doing that. I have to think far, far more about what I can do than fixate on how I look doing it. That’s what matters. If anybody else has a problem with how I looked, they’re free to make jokes about it on the platform of their choice. And I’m free to enjoy my winnings.

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Bignose out.