When You’re a White Woman

This morning I woke up to an empty apartment and thought to myself, “Now what?” A mere 24 hours prior I had been among the hundreds packed to anxiety-level-capacity on Bart, umbrellas and posters tucked close to make room for the thousands more ready to brave the rain and gruesome reality of this nation’s backward ass politics during the Oakland Women’s March. For a few hours, I put aside any annoyance toward trivial matters — the drooling baby resting on my left boob rather than his mother’s; the flailing marcher who kept whacking me with her giant paper maché vulva — and reveled in the beauty that is being surrounded by countless kickass honeys. Yesterday I had a purpose, a plan. I was moving forward, pun damn well intended.

But today was different. Today I rolled around in my pajamas wondering what the hell to do with the residual gravity — the pride in my city, the disgust in my country. The confusion of vehemently feeling both. I thought of all the bodies pressed together just one day ago and wondered if they too were spreadeagle under their sheets, uncertain what civil protest should look like if you’re home alone without anything to Instagram. I admit that without a spelled out way to channel my grief, I let it rest. Made some eggs. Painted my nails. “The usual.” Giving my mind a break wasn’t necessarily the worst thing in the world. But in the past few months, I’ve found this complacency at the result of aimlessness to be pretty damn routine in white feminism. The whole, “I’m not sure what to do, so… *does nothing*” thing. That, “As long as I’m not the one being directly racist/sexist/transphobic/xenophobic/etcetc, I’m doing OK,” mentality.

To these kinds of feminists: I see you. You’re more common than you’d think. Though you have good intentions, you get easily sidetracked when traversing controversial waters alone. You get sucked into arguments on comment threads and take strangers’ insults personally because you aren’t used to having your character attacked. You quickly become frustrated — why aren’t they taking you seriously? All you want is to spread love. Understanding. Equality. You’re promoting all the right warm fuzzies and choosing your words so carefully and taking time out of what could have been a pleasant evening to fight what feels like someone else’s fight, but now they’re calling you names? Telling you to “get over it,” to “check your privilege.” Run down you pull out your bra from within your heavy social justice warrior armor, pour yourself some wine, and turn on the Gilmore Girls revival seeking the familiarity of actors who walk and talk and look like you.

You’re turning more frequently these days. Away from the news, the internet. Away from antagonistic conversations with family members and coworkers. How are you meant to bring change if you’re exhausted from being constantly berated with terrible things? Turn instead to friends with similar mindsets, other white women feeling apprehensive about their baby steps into activism, the ones who laugh nervously when someone asks if they’re “woke.” You build each other up beautifully, reassure one another you’re good people even if you don’t participate in every Facebook rally you’re invited to or join in when you hear protestors chanting “Black Lives Matter.” You’re wearing the clever vag shirts you made and, after all, you do click “Going” on those events even if you don’t actually attend — that’s a start, right? The echoes of innocent placating within your bubble lull you into a peaceful sleep, rest assured you’ve done your part for humanity because Gal Pal #1 thinks you’re really keen.

And I bet you are really keen. A kind, looking-to-do-better individual. I know you don’t skip around pickpocketing from the elderly or calling people fags or drawing swastikas in permanent marker on the foreheads of kindergartners. I know you are genuinely concerned for the fate of our country and are doing your best to fumble your way through this newfangled publicly-giving-a-shit thing. We’ve all got unprecedented compassion flowing out of our hoo-has and aren’t quite sure how we like the taste of words like “ally” or “intersectionality” rolling around in our mouths without washing them down with a fifths worth of qualifiers. You aren’t sure where you stand in all the chaos, how to use your voice without drowning out another’s, and that makes you uneasy. I get it.

But something needs to be made very clear. This fight is not centered around you. You don’t get to give yourself a smack on the ass for being a decent human. When you bring up statistics on females in the workplace, and another feminist brings up even more staggering numbers about black or Hispanic women, she is not saying you do not have the right to equal pay. If a support group is advertised as explicitly for women of color, that group is not saying your mental health is not important. These disparities exist because despite our shared understanding about the need for reproductive rights, despite our same fears about sexual assault, and despite our united struggle to combat societal definitions on what it means to be “feminine” — white women have continually benefitted from the perseverance of white supremacy. We don’t get to ignore this just because it makes us uncomfortable.

There are a lot of white women calling for unity and claiming discussions of race are only further dividing us. This is essentially the equivalent of a white woman standing on top of a ladder with a hammer (both of which she inherited from her daddy), inches away from tappin’ that glass, screaming into a megaphone at those down below to “catch the fuck up.” It is the same reason anyone with common sense will go up in arms if you claim “All Lives Matter.” If you want to truly empower other women, to work toward protecting our livelihoods from dipshits like Trump, you need to recognize we are not all coming from the same place in our struggle. A propensity for empathy when shit is clearly hitting the fan can’t erase decades of the apathy when “your people” weren’t being threatened.

You can’t control the actions of your ancestors, but you can control the healing process. Does this mean you deserve to be disrespected or stripped of your humanity as some sort of collateral damage? No. Does it mean you shouldn’t be participating at all in an effort to leave space for the marginalized? Not exactly. It means you need to show up, and you need to listen. You need to get into the habit of consistently checking in with yourself and asking if what you’re doing is coming from a place of openness and community, or if it’s just another quick-fix solution to your pent up guilt. It means your activism doesn’t get to disappear once you alone have reached a comfortable resting place.

If conversations about sexism are making you feel alienated because you think your pain is being belittled by the pain of another woman, I encourage you to take a step back and try to think of one valid reason why suffering should ever be made into a competition. I want you to get comfortable with the idea that building each other up is going to take a lot of breaking down your own character. There are going to be days when you don’t know what to do, when fightin’ the good fight seems too daunting, and on those days I need you to remember why you started in the first place. Remember you marched alongside thousands of diverse, proactive, badass bitches, and at the end you asked yourself, “Now what?” not because you needed another “good deed,” but because you wanted to keep our world moving forward.

Remember, ladies: there are no gold stars for not being (or not having) a dick. There’s just a lot more progress.

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The Worst Part About Going Home for the Holidays

It’s been a few hours of grueling bumper-to-bumper traffic. You are convinced every driver on the road has been replaced by a narcoleptic elf incapable of using a turn signal. You’re on your fiftieth rendition of Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You” and are ready to slam your head against the steering wheel to test the reliability of your airbags when you finally see it. Your exit. The glorious green billboard announcing you’ve reached your destination. Population: 77,846, half of which will subject you to mind numbing chit chat at Safeway over the next 72 hours. Before you even unload your luggage, you decide you need a drink.

You’re at the local cesspool Molly Magees accidentally bumpin’ behinds with a 40 year old from Google when your friend yell-whispers, “Oh my god, guess who’s here!” Lo and behold, faces from yearbooks you probably should’ve burned already appear at the bar. Everyone is drunk off jäger bombs because strangers think buying women a heart attack for chugging is somehow festive, so you’re feeling adequately chipper and willing to approach these high school motherfuckers as if they’ve never seen you inhale too much water up your nose during the swim unit. The women seem cordial (re: jäger bombs) and unsure how to make small talk despite liking each other’s shit on Instagram for the last 6 years, but the men are friendly. They are diggin’ what you are unintentionally throwin’ down, laughing at your non-jokes and thinking about how to get you into the back of their mom’s Subaru. You want to shout, “Where were you when I had a severe side part and social anxiety in AP Lit, huh?!” but instead push the horrors of 17 aside and let them grind with you as they never would have at homecoming.

The DJ puts on All-American Rejects and even though you’re spilling your drink down the front of senior year heartthrob Joe Shmoe’s jeans, your mind races back to an even more traumatic memory: 8th grade grad dance. It all becomes too much — the sweatiness, the red and green strobe lights, the expectations of ugly duck syndrome — so you slip away, telling everyone you’re “Just going to the ladies’!” even though you’re sure the fuck not. You find yourself alone outside, shivering in the California winter like the weather weenie you are, amused and disgusted to realize you’re leaning against the very Starbucks planter you upchucked in two years prior. Saddened by the lack of satisfactory fast food chains within stumbling distance — you’ve given up on In-N-Out due to the likelihood of more “nostalgic” encounters — you decide it’s time to call an Uber or Lyft or whatever hybrid low-emission drunk person carrier pigeon Silicon Valley has to offer, praying the driver has no affiliation with your adolescent education.

By the time you get back to your parents’ house, all the lights are off. The neighborhood is quiet with the exception of the slight whirring from the mechanical reindeer the new overachieving family across the way set up exactly two seconds after Thanksgiving came to a close. You try to remember how you used to sneak in without disrupting the dogs, but, oh, right, you were lame and never stayed out past 11 because alcohol was (is) gross and boys had (have) cooties. You fumble with your keys, reminding yourself you don’t technically have any rules — you’re almost 25, for God’s sake — and miss the doorknob entirely, sending the Pomchi into psycho mode. You tiptoe/clumsy-stomp down the hallway past the bathroom, too exhausted to figure out the new world order of the medicine cabinet to find toothpaste, and throw yourself on a bed with unfamiliar sheets in a room that’s no longer yours.

You wake up to the sensory pleasures of bacon and children screaming. Your mom doesn’t eat breakfast, but her on-again, off-again boyfriend has two small heathens in need of constant fueling. You’re 90% sure the little boy has at some point wet the bed you’re laying in. Luckily you never made it out of your clothes and under the covers, ya lush. You tilt your hungover head as much as you’re able to take in the decor. The desk is against a different wall. The accent colors of throw pillows and candles are now shades of blue and green rather than your signature purple. The plastic bag full of stuffed animals and sweatshirts from your ex is out of sight, the one change you’re grateful for. You hear footsteps crashing down the hallway and start the countdown of when someone will come hurtling through the door, reminding yourself it’s none of your business. It’s her relationship; her house; her life. Remind yourself that it all used to feel very much like your business.

You spend a few hours aimlessly revisiting parts of your childhood, more so out of bored obligation than any true sense of longing. You walk by your elementary school, notice the little coats left behind by eager six year olds sprinting toward the freedom of winter break. Were you ever that small? Your middle school has been freshly painted, the high school covered in solar panels. There are far too many fusion restaurants popping up downtown. A sculpture you used to rebelliously clamber all over replaced by something even more abstract. None of this has any direct effect on you, on your present livelihood. The people who have stayed in this town longer, watched it all unfold as the months and years idled by, seem unfazed. It’s just what happens. And yet you feel unsettled. Restless. Like those landmarks were meant as anchors even though you intentionally left them behind, tugging at the tethers to let you go.

You expected to come back and feel grounded. Whole. Like every breath of crisp air should somehow revive you. But it all seems wrong. There are consolatory sayings — home is what you make it, home is where the heart is — but lately your heart doesn’t know what it wants. Lately, “lately” feels like it’s lasted a little too long.

There’s the apartment you currently live in, the one that costs too much and isn’t that great but gives the illusion of independence and a balanced checking account. You’ve filled it with useless stools and canvas prints and plants that give you anxiety only to make the next inevitable uprooting more difficult. It’s close enough to the job you’re not sure you like, and the city you think you could see yourself in for more than a few months, but not a few years. It’s now.

There’s your college town, the one you’ll visit in a heartbeat but only for a weekend. Too full of late night Domino’s and rolling around with your first love and naïveté at finding yourself within crowded lecture halls to really fit the person you think you’ve become two years post-grad. You look back on the dish cluttered sinks and seemingly important midterms with a time-stamped fondness, certain a do-over could never touch you the same way again.

And then there’s here. A place whose familiarity was meant to withstand these uneasy feelings. The ginkgo trees lining the streets you rollerbladed down in Powerpuff girl pajamas. Report cards stuck to fridges full of leftovers. The parents who made it all possible. You expect to see everything frozen, to complain about how dull it’s all become in its simplicity. Yet the discomfort hangs. You watch as your mom and dad slowly build their own lives, no longer entwined with the demands of your youth. Mom mentions friends you’ve never heard of. Dad plans trips with the woman you’ve only met in the driveway a few times over the past seven years. Friends from school don’t always come back, too busy with their across country jobs or grad programs or significant others to make the trek. The annual reunions and rehashing of pre-teen embarrassment no longer guaranteed. Everyone has moved on, found their footing somewhere else.

And you want to be happy for them. These are people you love, people you want to see succeed, regardless of whether or not you’re in the picture. But you’re scared. Selfish, perhaps. You haven’t landed on solid ground. You wonder how it’s possible to feel both stuck and floating all at once. You think about someday settling down, finding your own little studio or slice of suburbia to tend to, and instantly feel trapped. You try to imagine a vagabond lifestyle, traipsing here and there with no attachments, and suddenly feel lost. You’ve made such a habit of seeking comfort in fresh scenery you’re unsure if it’s the solution or the problem. “Home” and “heart” meant to be synonymous, but never quite in the right place at the right time.

If your location keeps changing… if your company keeps leaving… Are you all that’s left to keep things steady? What if controlling your state of mind is the only sense of home you’ll ever know?

What if you never can?

Aftermath

The night Trump was elected I tried to set up a booty call. Wanted someone else’s bare skin pressed against mine. Sent a text to my fuck buddy assuming he’d be down but he was too tired. “This weekend, probs,” he said.
The night after Trump was elected I asked the guy I was dating if he could comfort me — asked if “we were there yet,” as if being there for someone requires a certain amount of compulsory drinks/dinners/get-togethers to be warranted. Told him I’d been having nightmares of men grabbing me and I wasn’t able to escape. “Not all men would do that, though,” he said.
The third day after Trump was elected I sat crying in the lobby of Planned Parenthood. Tried to pay attention as a physician told me which pill to swallow daily to prevent something unwanted. “Side effects should be minimal,” she said.

The days and nights following blurred together. Tried to drink; couldn’t stomach more than one beer. Went to yoga, hoped it might get me to unwind — stiffened every time the teacher touched me without asking. Chick flicks helped, sort of. For hour and a half intervals I could pretend men chasing after women would always lead to a happy ending, like women choosing love over their careers time and time again was honorable, worthwhile. I swooned as young Heath Ledger kissed a paintball splattered Julia Stiles in 10 Things I Hate About You and tried my hardest not to wonder if after the credits their romance would deter her from following her dream of attending Sarah Lawrence. I fell asleep at 8 PM to the soundtracks of 90’s rom-coms trying to drown out the news only to wake up in the middle of the night, confused and alone on the couch with only a few hours before reality could set back in.
I practiced self-help on a shaky loop. Normalized a routine when all I wanted was to scream this is not normal. Gave up on self-help. Called myself a bad feminist for wanting a man’s company at a time like this, for putting my worth in someone else’s gruff hands. Thought back to when he asked, “Whose pussy is this?” and I replied, “Yours,” without hesitation because giving away ownership of my body wasn’t something I used to fear. Remembered what it was like to orgasm without feeling like it was some sort of political statement.
A week later I caught myself laughing — genuine, unapologetic laughter — and stopped short. Told myself it wasn’t OK to be happy, not at a time like this. Put my somber face back on, the one that goads strangers into unsolicited pep-talks of, “Smile, sweetheart.” Felt guilty any time it cracked. Felt like I should be spending more time crying but every part of me was too tired. Too numb. Couldn’t sift through all the stages of grief quickly enough so settled for a half-hearted mixture instead. Picked fights with my mother over her dating life. Picked fights with anyone who would let me. Was offered countless hugs and accepted them timidly, unsure how to approach this overwhelming need to be held tight yet left alone. Dreaded anyone asking how I was really doing.

Two weeks later, I’m not really sure.

In Response to Being Called an “SJW”

I’ve been trying this new thing where I have conversations with people who generally make me want to gouge my eyes out. The ironic intent is to engage in actually eye opening dialogue, in which a seemingly sexist/racist/likewise moronically inclined individual is able to convince me their backward ass way of thinking isn’t entirely archaic and misguided but rather horribly misunderstood. I’m sure you can tell from my lack of coddling this experiment has not been going well.

In the past few months I’ve wasted a ridiculous amount of energy patiently listening to those with opinions starkly different than my own. For the record, I do not get to pat myself on the back for this. What I’m calling an “experiment” should in reality be basic human decency, but I’m the first to admit I’m kind of a stubborn prick and am more prone to administer a swift “lol fuck you” titty twister and carry on with my day than put up with anyone’s regressive bullshit. And so, with this in mind, I have attempted to stifle my penchant for the profane, tone down my offensively loquacious liberalism, and make space for those who (turns out) take up too much already. I have sat composed as a man who adamantly claimed he was “not a misogynist!!!” yelled himself red in the face about the polarizing effects of feminism without recognizing the polarizing effects of his having spent the past hour ranking random women’s breasts. I have apprehensively nodded as a “please keep going in hopes this isn’t heading where I think it’s heading” gesture while a friend explained why they won’t be bothering to vote in November. I have left what I thought were genuinely curious comments on a high school classmate’s posts about “black on black crime” and white privilege and woken up to a stranger calling me a “special snowflake” — one that should “go back to the nursery, because the adults have some adulting to do.”

Needless to say, none of these interactions have been particularly enriching experiences. They’re also rather tame in terms of backlash compared to what a majority of people have to put up with on a daily basis — those fighting for their right to (forget thriving) merely exist without constant berating for simply being themselves. Those who aren’t fazed by lame insults because their inherent being has been spit out as the dirtiest of slurs their whole life. Plus, I’m fairly certain it’s a scientific fact the frequency at which you use “adult” as an action is directly disproportional to your actual maturity. I know this because I myself subsist strictly on self-deprecating humor and foodstuffs which cost no more than $1.25 in the vending machines at work. Sticks and stones may break my pathetically weak, junk laden bones, but there really aren’t any words you can hurl at me on the internet that’ll make me give a shit about your opinion if it revolves around name calling and an unhealthy love of jerking off with a confederate flag every night.

Perhaps living near Berkeley has made me too much of a hippie. Maybe going to poetry slams and writing workshops has made me ~*overly sensitive*~ to social justice issues, more likely to use words like “triggering” and subsequently trigger those offended by me taking initial offense (go figure). Quite frankly, I’m tired of parsing my language into digestible pieces for those still using origin stories of forbidden fruit as an excuse to be supremacist asswipes. Please, go ahead and use your newest favorite acronym to brand me as unintelligent. I don’t fucking care. If I wanted to have a pointless argument about labels I’d get back together with my ex.

I’m sick of pretending I’m doing some sort of vigilante service by not unfriending ignorant peers when the fact that I even have the option is part of the problem. I’m sick of being shamed into thinking empathy is just the newest bandwagon trend I’m lame for trying to jump on. Being called a social justice warrior doesn’t upset me. The fact that people finally caring about something bigger than themselves is being made out to be a ludicrous concept does.

To Revisit When in a Funk

Oh, little rosebud. You’ve been having a bit of a rough go of things, haven’t you? Suffering from what you call “the funk.” But if we’re being completely honest, dear, “funk” is just a cutesy euphemism for “mild depression.” Which, in the name of full full disclosure, probably doesn’t need a Taco Bell hot sauce qualifier and should in fact simply be called “depression.” But, regardless of what you call it, or however many slightly-endearing-mostly-patronizing floral nicknames you come up with for yourself — it doesn’t feel so good, does it? That inexplicable heaviness in your chest, however big or small. The meltdowns so blubbery random police officers deem it necessary to bring you tissues and water as you curl up in embarrassment in your car. The persistent mantra of “I am not good enough,” despite being surrounded by the most loving of friend cheerleaders and even sometimes attempting to wield the pom poms yourself.

You’ve been tired without really knowing why. Your body aches, and not in that amazing post-run-post-kinky-sex-post-food-baby-glory way. You’re remembering all the “revelations” you’ve had over the past year and wondering how you let yourself slip back to this place. This delusional realm where other people’s opinions and expectations and unhappiness are somehow your problems, too. You’re apologizing for being “needy” and “crazy” and praying you’ll get your period soon so you’ll have an emotional scapegoat when deep down you know this shit rests on more than just a few days of hyperactive uterus partying.

You went to therapy, goddamnit. You occasionally workout and sure as hell eat enough and you have hobbies and family and all the distractions in the world. And yet it still hurts. Your heart hurts your head hurts everything just really really fucking hurts and it hurts to try to explain and hurts worse when you don’t and you just want it to stop. hurting. And there are no quick-fix band-aid solutions because if there were you would’ve slammed them down with the rest of those beers and you wouldn’t have cried after making out with him and your mother wouldn’t be sending you puppy memes because you’d be taped back together and fine. But you’re not. You’re bottling it all in only to explode at the worst possible moments — drinking too much, sobbing too much, too much-ing your way through everything to overcompensate for never being enough and you’ve done this before why isn’t it ever getting better?

Obviously being manic in this way is not helping. So let’s try a different approach, hmm? Take a minute or two to cry. Or half an hour. Or a week. Really, bawl your eyes out. Scream, if you must, ya overachiever. And whenever you’re done — exhausted not from everything you’re trying to run away from but from sheer aggressive air gasping exertion — rub your snot on your sleeve in the most un-lady-like fashion, take a deep, deep breath, and listen.

It’s OK to admit that sometimes when you say, “I need a drink,” what you’re really hoping someone will hear is, “I need a hug.” I need a hand squeeze. I need time to lay by myself on my big girl bed and do absolutely nothing. You can also explicitly ask for these things, you know. And you’ll get them, from the right people.

Because you know what? You’re actually pretty baller. You’re like, the ballsiest you can be without literal balls. Your metaphorical so-called “masculine” genitalia is pretty fucking fantastic, and it’s not conceited to think so. In fact, it’s brave. Barring shark cage diving or attempting to convert a hoard of violence inclined Trump supporters (which, one could argue, are both quite stupid rather than courageous endeavors), owning your confidence or lack thereof is one of the gutsiest things you can do. To wake up each day and try to be gentle with yourself and your feelings no matter what? Goddamn, that’s badass.

It’s obviously not easy. If it were, you wouldn’t have the urge to write second-person blog posts every few months with the classic woe-is-me-but-wait-you’re-great! story arc. And while you could admonish yourself for not sticking to your own advice, maybe you’re learning to accept this isn’t a linear journey like you had hoped. Maybe you’re scheduling internal mental health checkups more frequently than you visit the dentist or doctor and confusing this with worrying too much when in reality the “neuroticism” and desire for impeccable self-awareness are helping you grow. Maybe your depression doesn’t feel as valid as someone else’s, maybe you’re being too whiny and self-absorbed — but then again, aren’t those the thoughts that got you here in the first place? Tearing yourself apart and then comparing the scraps to other people? Denying you have problems while simultaneously pushing them front and center, blocking all the good things out?

No wonder you’re exhausted. Here you are, fighting against all the little quirks and nervous ticks that make you you. Making yourself the punch line, talking to yourself in a way you would never, ever imagine using on someone you love, lowering your expectations for people who still can’t be bothered to reach them. You are amazing. And for some godforsaken reason, you’re far too eager to forgo that for the alternative of being miserable, a comforting discomfort you’ve held onto for too long. Please, let go. Stop confusing “familiar” with “good.” Stop surrounding yourself with anyone or anything that doesn’t bring out the best in your wonderful albeit perpetually snarky self. Stop making lists of things to stop doing.

Get outside. Call your brother. Run slowly, and often. Read a book. Love those who can love you back just as fiercely. Gag when your own advice makes you ill. Tell yourself lovely things without referencing gagging. Bloom, motherfucker. Write this knowing it will not be the last time you worry about your thorns. Smile anyway.

Chat Room Confessional

At 15 I spent a lot of time on a site called “myjellybean.com.” Which, in retrospect, sounds like my first online encounter with a clitoris, but in reality was a forum where teenage girls (and, let’s be real, 40 year old men hiding behind usernames like lilmamaponylover92) could come together to bitch about problems teenage girls are prone to have. For instance, I had just gotten my braces off and was essentially trying to bust out of my awkward “cocooning” phase with the grace of someone gyrating out of a straitjacket — so it was pretty cool to find a community of similarly afflicted tragic ducklings. It was a point in my life where I had outgrown taking care of virtual creatures on Neopets, and “family dinner” meant everyone ate in their respective bedrooms, giving me ample time to lurk message boards dedicated to convos about how to French kiss and what lip gloss brands would taste best while French kissing.

Not that I put my saliva swapping lessons to immediate use. Or retained much, for that matter (fast forward five years to a boy telling me I was “stiff as a board” while trying to tongue wrestle and it was like, “Well, yeah. Shit. You’re trying to tongue wrestle.”). But still, it felt oddly comforting to know there were other young women out there equally concerned with the possibility of “baby fat” being — gasp — regular ol’ fat. Other girls frustrated with their older brothers and mothers and that witch Samantha who never invited anyone unpopular to her sleepovers. Puberty stragglers and avid Sweet Valley High readers and timid virgins all gathered under one cyber roof commiserating the suckfest that was — and still is — becoming a woman. This was not a space for “A/S/L?” talk. We were all young, female, and wanted to be anywhere but where we actually were. Being locked in my room blinded by an eMac at 2 AM was ironically the first time I felt connected to other girls my age on a global scale.

While Jellybean offered a variety of topics for discussion, I never explored boards like “Talents, Hobbies & Sports” or “Current Events/Politics/Religion.” Frequenting a chat room meant I had no hobbies, and even now the only reason I care about anything political or religious is because I’m horrified the Republican frontrunner for President is basically Satan. Instead, a majority of my time was spent on boards like “Dating 911” and “Beauty 911” (note the recurring theme of comparing crush drama and makeup faux pas to a dire emergency). To say my interactions with boys were minimal would be generous. My foundation was a thick slathering of SPF 70. It wasn’t shocking I was drawn to tips on how to improve my sex appeal, even if I wouldn’t go on to engage in any sort of hanky-panky for another five years (“stiff board” boy now stiff in other regions). Sure, I had friends at school with boyfriends, and a mother with a staggering amount of wisdom regarding all things Trojan and Maybelline combined, but there was something that felt more honest about getting feedback from strangers. They didn’t know me in real life. They had no reason to lie.

I started posting pictures of myself asking for advice on what I could change. I hated my curly hair, the hint of yellow in my teeth, the way my chin disappeared when I stood profile. “What would you do if you were me?” I asked. These “Rate Me!” threads were common. At any given time dozens of girls under the age of 18 were eagerly sharing photos of their faces and bodies, begging for ways to improve their appearance. I’ll admit most of the time I was fishing for compliments. I felt uncomfortable in my own pimpled skin like any other freshman in high school, but I’d grown up being brainwashed to think I was beautiful anyway (thanks, mom). I didn’t necessarily want someone on the internet telling me to straighten my hair — I wanted attention. I wanted someone not related to me, not obligated by best friend code, to validate things about me I had always secretly hoped were true. In a time before Facebook likes and Tinder matches, little me got a little high every time my thread would be bumped up by someone saying, “Aw, girl, you’re already pretty! Don’t change a thing.”

Wasn’t enough though. I went on to participate in “Guess My Weight” threads, posting faceless photos of myself in the only bikini I owned. I was 15 years old and posting nearly nude photos of myself on a public forum. I knew my weight by heart. It let out a sigh every time I got pizza for lunch, wailed a bit any time I tried on jeans too small. Even though I was healthy, the smack-dab in the middle BMI for my age and height, I wanted someone to look past my slightly curved tummy and Neanderthal-esque posture and say, “You’re definitely not over double digits.” But when users came back with spot-on guesses — 5’3,” 120 pounds? — the honesty tasted wrong. Tasted like maybe I should start keeping a daily log of my food intake on the “Fitness/Nutrition” board. Like I should stop eating so much cake, as one girl suggested. Try some arm exercises, said another. Write all “bad” foods in red, shame on you. Post a sad face emoticon every time I felt disgusted with my results. Starve. Binge. Post. Repeat.

I wish there was a climactic end to the story. That I stopped going on the forums because I knew my behavior was edging on unhealthy. But in reality I got too caught up with the traumas of trig homework and driver’s tests and irregular menstruation to spend time thinking about anything related to my body other than how to shove a cardboard applicator up inside it. I often look back on my trysts with eating disorders and dismiss them for never reaching an extreme. I was never hospitalized. There were no interventions, no noticeable changes in my weight to warrant such. Part of me is incredibly grateful it never got that far. Another (sick) part of me is disappointed with my inability to commit to a full blown disorder. Thinks I’m a quitter. Still doesn’t understand food as a source of nourishment but instead sees it as an opportunity for punishment, control, proof of determination.

I can’t remember the password to my Jellybean account, yet it takes all of two seconds to tap back into the mindset of a teenage girl frustrated with her surroundings and using her body as the punching bag. I’m worried those feelings will never be something I “outgrow.” Nine years later and they still creep up after breakups; when work is killing me; while laying on my back in bed trying not to drop my phone on my face as I stalk some hot chick’s Instagram. There are runs when I am punishing my body instead of celebrating it. Group photos I have to actively resist the urge to Photoshop to oblivion. Bowls of plain broccoli followed by even more bowls of ice cream and days of regret. It is a never ending battle to accept that a balanced diet is a reflection of a balanced mind, and I’m not sure I have the latter.

I am in my mid-twenties calling myself a feminist and balking at body shamers yet crumbling under my own weight whenever I find myself in front of a mirror.

It is almost a decade later and I’m still forging online relationships in hopes I’ll find a community strong enough to push me away from the screen.

I am 24 years old and it still feels like everything I post on the internet is a half naked selfie begging for attention.

To the Women I’ve Been Jealous Of

You’re laughing with your friend one seat ahead of me, the stem of your wine glass poised effortlessly between your stupidly slender fingers. As if ordering wine at a dive bar is somehow très chic instead of très cost ineffective, like the maroon maxi skirt hung low on your hips which just so happens to match the impracticality of your liquor choice was a happy accident in painting the perfect picture of you. Your hair is long and thick and almost brushing my knees and I hate it. Makes me irrationally angry, like I could dropkick a turtle. Makes me all too aware mine is knotted like my stomach while I watch the guy I went to dinner with glance in our direction, thoughts too involved with his casual mentioning that you two “used to be involved” to enjoy the Lagunitas creating a charming puddle in my lap. I bet you don’t even drink beer because it’s fattening. I hate that you’re not fat.

I don’t even know you. But I’ve known women like you. Ones I’ve built up so much in my head the only solution is to tear them down, their names branded in my memory more vividly than the faces of the men I thought I was competing for. Strangers I’ve never met except through accidentally left public Facebook photos, vague histories I’ve tormented myself with by making too graphic, too real, too much my business when they were so not my business. Women whose bodies I’ve used as vessels for my own loathing, begging friends to convince me I’m prettier—crying because I don’t believe them; crying because I know it shouldn’t matter.

To you, and to all those women: I am so sorry.

I am sorry for turning you into the worst kind of muse, the kind only capable of inspiring childish ill will. I’m sorry for resenting the inane idea of “eskimo sisters,” fixating on the curve of your breasts, the width of your nose, the space between your thighs simply because the same man once parted the way between my own. I am sorry for ever implying the length of your skirt could speak volumes louder than your actual voice.

Please forgive me. For while I could blame the media, past lovers, long harbored insecurities—I know there is no excuse for such behavior. Forgive me for all the times I’ve cut deeper than your physical beauty—hoped you were stupid, prayed you were unlovable—merely because I feared those things about myself. Forgive me for thinking a strong woman’s presence was something to be afraid of; shoved aside; undermined by sick facades of admiration while I struggled to figure out what someone could possibly admire about me.

It’s common to tell those worried about relationships they must love themselves before they can love someone else. But regardless of the language I use to speak to myself—the hyper critical native tongue I practice every day waking up in this body and mind and refuse to silence—you deserve so much more than that. I don’t even know you and yet I know you have struggled. And sought affection. And perhaps even thought poorly of me, the random girl sitting behind you glaring helplessly at your goddamn ridiculously lovely head of hair. And I am sorry for ever believing thinking less of you could possibly bring out more of me.

I often feel as a woman my existence is meant to be an apology. This is the one time I mean it.