What Radicalized You?

“What Radicalized You?” The popular hashtag turned Reddit thread, turned q and a for social media circulates through my feed on almost a daily basis. Someone responding with their personal experiences of racial, gender or socioeconomic inequity will tell us about their friend who had to drop out of college because they couldn’t afford it. Of their first time learning of a Black boy killed by police. Seeing their mom survive domestic violence. Learning what it means to work full time and still go hungry. Having a family member deported. The question asks us to think back to that moment in which our reality was so shifted that we were forcefully shoved into what felt like an alternate universe. One where we would instantly begin the search to explain the realities we lived in within a larger system of brokenness. So we could fight it. I feel like for many of us, that moment is like clarity. Contextualization.

I began to ask myself that question. What radicalized me? I couldn’t really answer it and have it make sense. I have always felt radicalized. Maybe not as a small child, but ever since I can clearly remember my high school years and beyond, I was searching. I read, a lot. I listened to punk rock, a lot. I understood on a philosophical level that our systems were broken, and yet, I felt mostly protected and privileged enough to avoid most hardships outside of money being tight and my parent’s divorce. I remember being happy most of my childhood, but critical of the world anyway. Many times I investigated something and discovered the brokenness, I would feel an affirmation of something I already sensed was wrong. It would take that idea I had and sharpen it.

The first time I remember I acted on this relearning of reality was with vegetarianism. I knew killing animals wasn’t right. That eating them wasn’t necessary for our survival. That exploiting life for our own selfish gains couldn’t be ethical. After confirming the reality of factory farming, I was radicalized when it came to food. No more meat, then years later, no more animal products at all. I write about it, I talk about it, I live that political choice to heavily opt out of a food system that is corrupt and set up to exploit animals, people, and the planet in order to make us all sick for the profit of few. But outside of being a vegan, why can I not trace my radicalization and unlearning of other systems to any one moment, or time in my life?

I have a degree in journalism. I’ve had it for about eleven years. About one year ago I started reading books and listening to podcasts written and produced by Mexican or Mexican/American journalists that identify as women. Four years of studying media theory and not one of these (sometimes Pullitzer Prize winning) journalists was mentioned or studied. Sure, I got my degree eleven years ago, but I am almost positive that Mexicans were around back then.

I remember being disillusioned and bored in college for the first few semesters. I learned about who owns the news in America (white guys), who owns the television networks in American (white guys), and who critiques this co-opted and mostly biased dissemination of information in America (they told us, mostly white guys). I knew there had to be more to this equation than reading Noam Chomsky and being upset at Viacom. I didn’t see myself anywhere in that reality, and I felt equally unseen in classrooms where being louder is overvalued and being quiet and introspective is a reason to not get the media job.

So first, I tried the theater department. I needed to blow off steam after taking depressing class after class on media theory and how corrupt it was. The problem, I see now, is there was no greater framework presented to help us understand the inequalities or reasons for corruption: theory. And then no real plan to change it: action. It was all just depressing this is how it is, and feel free to sacrifice yourself at the alter of fighting the good fight, if you dare, for $30,000 a year. I needed more explanation. I wanted to “fight that good fight” (aka: write) but I didn’t understand why I was drawn to the fight in the first place, and what we were fighting against or for exactly. There were blind spots and unexplored intersections everywhere and they were screaming out at me to be discovered. How could I write to change a system that no one was naming? It would take me years to understand that education is also a complex and often times corrupt institution that protects itself by omitting what is necessary to do so.

So, back to the theater department. I took acting. I took costume design. I loved being creative and doing things outside of my comfort zone and I felt more seen. Things like studying A Midsummer Night’s Dream AND A Raisin in the Sun are important. But I still needed more than that. I needed explanations. And I found them in the Women’s Studies Department.

And the explanations (with a million additional questions) were everywhere if you wanted them. It was like your brain could explode on a daily basis if only you wanted it to. A lot of the theory presented explained my experiences and added legitimacy and context to previously amorphous concepts. Some of it was so paradigm shifting that it took months or years of unlearning to start to understand. But each day I was a little bit more radicalized. I took Feminist Theory, Race Gender and Globalization, Water Politics, (turns out, enough to get a second degree if I could’ve afforded one more semester) and as things got more confusing, they made more sense to me, and I wondered why Women’s Studies was separate from the other disciplines because it’s really in everything. In separating it lies much of the problem.

So I’d find myself searching. And I’ve continued searching ever since for what radicalized me. And I found it, or at least a big part of it in Mexican Female journalists, writers, and podcast hosts.

My entire life I have been over-represented. In every form of media I was told I was the beauty ideal, the American standard, the blonde-haired, blue-eyed symbol of whiteness in this country. Porcelain skin. Barbies look like me, Disney princesses look like me, the people on Saved by the Bell and Full House looked like me. I would be hard pressed now, or growing up, to turn on the TV or look at a beauty, fashion, or fitness ad anywhere in this country without seeing someone who looks like me.

But they aren’t me. They’re only half of me. The other half goes unnamed, erased, invisibilized and ignored. Or worse, vilified. My mother is a Mexican immigrant. I am biracial. I am simultaneously represented everywhere while being erased from almost all narratives. Because of my biracial identity, I rarely centered whiteness, aware that I was half Mexican, which equally deserves to be centered. Yet I was constantly told through popular culture, education, and media that my white half is the valued half, the half that is seen and recognized. The half that is worthy and entitled. So what becomes of the other invisible me?

What radicalized me was not one moment, but a million little moments of denying my identity (almost always unintentionally or unconsciously) in a country that favors whiteness. I was taught to erase half of myself in order to step into the immense privilege the other half gives me. This happens in small ways and in big ways. Sometimes the erosion happens slowly as I choose silence and privileged whiteness over pain and confrontation. Sometimes it’s more obvious. A swift mental breaking down amidst the dual concepts of being entitled to everything while simultaneously being entitled to nothing.

Example:

I’ve never felt afraid or discriminated against due to the color of my skin, my language, or my accent.

I once stood in front of a white woman, doing her makeup in the mall when she flippantly mentioned her disdain for Mexican immigrants who are “illegal” and “taking our jobs.” This comment came from no where and was completely out of context. As she looked into my blue eyes for confirmation, seeing a camaraderie implied by our common whiteness. I was stunned, but not too stunned to tell her I was half Mexican, and my mom was a Mexican immigrant. She said nothing for the rest of the appointment.

Was I worthy of this job? Was my mother worthy of existence? And if she wasn’t, wouldn’t that mean I wasn’t?

Example:

I have never felt that I’ve lost business / clients or am perceived to be lazy or less competent because of the color of my skin, my country of origin, or the language I speak.

I was once giving a routine facial to a client I’ve seen once a month for years. Off topic, she mentions the laziness of “illegal immigrants” who could simply fill out the form online to become a citizen, but choose not to do so. She went on to explain the simplicity and ease of this one form that she perceived would magically lead to their instantaneous citizenship.

I chose, in that moment, for her white comfort, to explain the complexities and hardships of becoming a US citizen using an example of a close friend from Australia who married a US Marine. I chose to erase my Mexican family (and half of myself) in that moment to avoid a combative response.

What does that say about me? I was born to someone she just described as incompetent and lazy. In that moment I used my whiteness as a shield, a shroud. Something to protect myself but also to protect that client and her racism and xenophobia.

My husband wonders why I don’t speak Spanish. Why I don’t cook recipes passed down for generations. And the only explanation I can seem to come up with is a slow and insidious wringing out of Mexican culture. A reduction in browness that has everything to do with a generations-long assimilation into whiteness, which in this country is synonymous with being American.

A piece chips off when my mother tells me she’d be mistaken for the maid or nanny when we’d go on outings together when I was small.

Another piece falls away every time I check a box. Whiteness is a social construct so why is it even on there? Which do I choose? I’m half of each but constantly told by the country I live in to only choose one.

My high school Spanish class was made up of 99% white kids who were instructed to dress up like “Mexicans” as part of a required project. I spoke up, was ignored, and got a lower grade for “non-participation.” Another piece is chipped off.

A piece chips off when my parents moved away from the city to raise my sister and I in a “safer,” small, rural, white town. I learn safety is synonymous with whiteness. I’m slowly taught to leave my browness behind in a place where it’s completely erased.

But my mom did the best she could to show us. Every summer I would play with my Barbies (that looked like me) in a small two bedroom Los Angeles apartment where those few familiar notes of La Cucaracha regularly blared indoors from somewhere out on the street. Where my grandparents, aunts and uncles would talk in Spanish over a loud telenovela while smoke from chilis burning on an open flame wafted out the sliding glass door. Mama took us to Olvera Street where we watched beautiful women twirl in their folklorico skirts. Grandma always had money for Paletas, or Helados bars from the ice cream man at the park, or who drove on our block. And grandpa loved his fresh conchas that would sit on the dining room table next to the fresh fruit.

I felt shuffled between one world where I looked like no one, and felt that I only partially belonged, to another world where I looked like everyone, and still felt like I barely belonged.

I am over represented everywhere, yet invisabilized everywhere. My double life radicalized me. My journey to mend my two identities into one whole person radicalizes me now.

Answering My Own Women in Business Questions: Part 3

The Things I Ask Everyone:

1) What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever gotten?

I already mentioned “you teach people how to treat you” in last week’s interview. So, I’ll share another incredibly influential piece of advice.

“Give yourself the emotional permission to create more time.”

Rory Vaden

For the first time in my life, someone had addressed the real issue with “time management.” As a new small business owner, soon-to-be wife, and someone who has varying personal interests, I had become tired of reading the same self-help, time management advice which essentially consists of: make lists, multi task, wake up earlier, and create a schedule. I was doing all those things and still felt like I could never find a free moment for myself, despite my efforts and discipline to make it work.

Am I the only woman who feels this way? Umm, no. These time management styles work for those of us without complex societal pressures to do everything, for everyone. And they absolutely do not address how to cope with the resulting guilt we feel when we can’t do everything, or simply don’t want to, and the pit of despair we tend to fall into once we beat ourselves up for “failing” at everything and letting everyone down, including ourselves.

Those books don’t even try to teach us how to deal with the constant exhaustion and (let’s face it) straight up fury we feel when we try to explain these concepts and are gaslit at every turn by those around us and society at large. “It’s 2021, sexism isn’t a thing anymore. Everyone is equal so you choose this for yourself. Other women have it way worse than you anyway. You’re overreacting. Stop being so emotional. Why is everything about being a woman? Why can’t you just be happy? Be grateful. If you don’t want to do all that stuff, just don’t do it. Or just stop complaining.” And the list goes on, and on, and on…our experiences invalidated, our frustration bottled back up at our own expense.

The problem is that lurking below the impossible weight of our never-ending to do lists is guilt and a sense of emotional obligation to do everything. Someone had finally named it. And once I wrapped my head around this concept and started detaching myself from that guilt, things slowly began improving. The solution to breaking this cycle is to recognize that the game is rigged, flip it two big middle fingers, and start working on your damn self.

However, I do want to mention that Vaden’s argument omits any type of gender theory (and all other identity politics for that matter) making his solutions overly simplistic at times. I plan to write an entire blog post on this topic, but until women can identify that we are conditioned by society to be what Emily and Amelia Nagoski in their book Burnout call “Human Givers” rather than human beings, we cannot even begin to unlearn this conditioning in order to change our behaviors.

The bottom line: Human Givers are taught (from the moment society genders us) to believe everyone else is entitled to our time and if we don’t give it, we’re bad people. Unpleasant, ungrateful, rude, selfish, lazy people. While human beings are taught (from the moment society genders them) to go out and conquer the world! No guilt necessary.

Give yourself the emotional permission to create more time. No one else will give it to you.

Vaden’s TED Talk: https://youtu.be/y2X7c9TUQJ8

2) What’s the biggest challenge and biggest reward of owning your own business?

The biggest challenge for me has been scaling my business to meet demand every time I outgrow my current model.

It’s easy to get comfortable and want things to stay the same once I find a rhythm, but that’s not how businesses grow. The universe has a way of forcing me to level up if I’m open to seeing opportunities and willing to put in the work to make them real. But every time I’ve had to do this I fall into what I call the “work hole” where I live and breathe my projects until they’re done, at the expense of everything else in my life. I’m working on that.

The biggest reward is participating in a community of women who believe that if we help each other, we will all succeed. That’s powerful.

3) What is one book that changed your life? Why?

Find A Way by Diana Nyad.

Nyad became the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida without the assistance of a shark cage. She failed four other attempts, and succeeded on her fifth, when she was 64 years old. It took her 53 hours.

Basically she is one of the biggest badasses ever, and her ability to develop mental toughness and persistence in the face of so much adversity is amazing to read about. The logistics behind her story are fascinating, but her memoir changed my life because she’s an amazing writer (journalist by trade) and many of the principles she eloquently writes about apply to all aspects of life.

My favorite quote from Find A Way that has helped me through so many impossibly difficult times:

Take every minute, one at a time. Don’t be fooled by a perfect sea at any given moment. Accept and rise to whatever circumstance presents itself. Be in it full tilt, your best self. Summon your courage, your true grit. When the body fades, don’t let negative edges of despair creep in. Allowing negativity leads to a Pandora’s box syndrome. You can’t stop the doubts once you consent to let them seep into your tired, weakened brain. You must set your will. Set it now. Let nothing penetrate or cripple it.”

Answering my own Women In Business Interview Questions: Introduction

Before we get into the question I’ve chosen for today, let’s have a chat.

It’s no mystery that for any business the holiday season is busy. During a typical year, October through December are my biggest months for shopping, and my service schedule is packed, so I find myself with little energy for much else. I had to accept the fact that interviews and resource guides may need to be put on pause until January, and that’s okay. In previous years I felt better about the chaos because I’d factored it in and planned plenty of time to myself. I was getting to a point where I could afford time off so I tried my best to take it. My goal was two weeks off last year (✔️), three weeks this year (not happening), and then a month starting in 2021 and moving forward until I change my mind again (it’s happening).

I’m talking about a sabbatical from the chaos to get my mind right, work on myself and my personal life, and see my business through fresh eyes so I can adjust. Recalibrate. Matthew McConaughey would call it a “walk about.” I won’t be getting high and floating down the Amazon River, however, a month without obligations but with set intentions can change your life. Even if you’re staying home. I learned that last year on my digital minimalism journey.

Then 2020 happened and all my “security,” plans, schedule changes and policies I’d been fine-tuning since becoming self employed evaporated. And here we are. I’m still taking two weeks off around Christmas and New Years, less out of a sense of accomplishment and more out of a sense of sheer exhaustion and necessity.

Since July I’ve been working on my online store project. Anyone who knows me is familiar with my insistence that I do things completely, and to the best of my personal ability, the first time. You know, it’s my Dad’s voice in my head: “Don’t half ass it. Do your best and that’s all you can do.” I hear that ringing in my ears every time I’m doubting myself, but it’s the truth. Our best is all we’ve got. My best is in creating things when the old ways just aren’t working out anymore.

I feel like I’m starting a second business. The time, coordination, rebranding, systems changes, and the money spent. It’s more than I bargained for, but it’s almost here. In less than two weeks my biggest work project since opening my business in the first place will be out there for the world to see. And all the familiar doubts usher me in with open arms.

Will it fail? Will I fail? Will no one like it? Was it a stupid idea in the first place? Should I have saved my money until a more predictable and steady time (non-pandemic)? Do I actually know what I’m doing? Will this give me more freedom or less?

I wanted to share these feelings with you because, to be completely honest, I’ve noticed many of you have commented on how well I’ve been navigating this challenge as a business owner. Quickly adapting, not frozen in fear or inactive. Pivoting and succeeding. And while I appreciate all the kind words and support, behind all the action is still a lot of fear. Fear of failure and fear of ending up back where I started.

But any smart business owner will tell you that it’s impossible to end up back where you started. Half of the fun of creating is learning what didn’t work. Even if you didn’t bargain for it, you’re left with the knowledge. Never back where you started. Always carrying more information than you had yesterday. Whether you wanted it or not.

I decided to answer these questions now because I feel like I’m in an unique place in my entrepreneurial journey. Experienced but not very experienced. I’ve thought about doing this in the past but didn’t feel like it was appropriate. Like writing a memoir at 25. I needed more time in the fire. 2020 has doled out the fire and the lessons, in droves. But I know I’m not even in the middle yet. In another five years I’ll answer them again, just to see.

I also thought it would be beneficial for new clients to get to know me better. With my online business becoming real, it’s a nice reminder for anyone who’s interested that it really is just me, a person, on the other side trying to do my best.

Being an entrepreneur and small business owner is scary in the first place, without the challenges 2020 has presented. But for some reason some of us are able to channel that fear into a challenge. It’s like a friendly but difficult and unending scrimmage with the universe.

That’s all you’ve got?

_____

Question 1: Tell us about your business, and your qualifications in the beauty industry.

I warn you in advance. I’m going to talk a lot, because it’s my blog. So why not?

I own Two Beauties Skin + Makeup in old town Eureka. I opened my two-person skincare and makeup studio in November of 2016 where I work with my sister. We’re both licensed estheticians and makeup artists. We offer facials, peels, waxing, makeup lessons, and event artistry. We also carry several skincare, makeup, and body care lines, and are launching our online store on December 1, 2020.

Somehow I always knew I wanted to write, and also be an artist in the beauty industry. I’m not sure how I knew that, and my roles have evolved over the years, but I’ve always chased that balance. A career that allows me to be creative while still being practical. Growing up in a family where we had enough, but money was always a constant source of worry, I knew I didn’t want that for myself. I knew that I needed to create things to feel sane, but rarely do art degrees pay the bills. So I met myself somewhere in the middle.

I started my career in the beauty industry in 2007 as a beauty sales person at an Estée Lauder counter in the mall. I, to this day, do not think there’s a better way to become a great makeup artist than to have a job which requires you to put makeup on anyone who asks you to, in the mall, for almost free. I worked on all skin types, tones, conditions, ages, and concerns. It’s an excellent way to get your feet wet without needing a professional license or any beauty qualifications whatsoever. I had some sales experience, and that was all that was necessary. My love for makeup was just a plus. I learned enough in that short year to propel me to my first job in a real makeup studio.

I applied to work at the local spa I went to for waxing. My amazing esthetician (who now owns her own shop and is still amazing) suggested I apply because their makeup artist was moving. I got the job and ended up working there for almost six years. I did everything there, including observing the benefits and pitfalls of running a small, local business. I worked as a receptionist, as a makeup artist (which now that I’m licensed I know is illegal to do without a license in a spa or salon…), as a manager, as a retail buyer, and finally after graduating from both Humboldt State with my degree in journalism and beauty school with my esthetics license, as a legitimate beauty professional.

After that, I worked in a spa one of my best friends co-owns for three years. With the amazing support, encouragement, and wisdom of the group of experienced women who work there, I was able to save enough money and gain enough confidence to open my own studio.

During this whole time, to make ends meet and pay for school, I worked at Victoria’s Secret. I started out as an 18 year old sales associate in 2006 and eventually ended up managing the beauty department. I credit the ten years working for that company in their heyday (plus my media degree) for almost all of my sales, management, and marketing knowledge. Working for a gigantic corporate brand and running their beauty department while simultaneously running a small business working with professional-level brands taught me both sides of the beauty world, large and small. Between the spa and Victoria’s Secret I was also able to make the closest friendships that I still have to this day, only nowadays we show support to each other by hiring each other, lifting each other up, and keeping our network strong. Working with (almost) all female staff my entire life has taught me that collaboration, rather than competition, is vital to business success.

My most notable experience during my “VS” days is where the above photo comes from. My beauty department in small-town Eureka sold more perfume (as a percentage of overall sales) than any other store in California. The company flew 19-year-old terrified, baby Liz to Texas (first time I’d ever flown, and by myself) where I got my makeup done by the models’ pro artist and got to have my pictures taken with Candice and Erin. What a day to be alive. Clearly, based on my facial expression, I wasn’t terrified whatsoever (just zoom in). That was the first time I saw how big the beauty industry really is, and it helped me to grow my own dreams.

As problematic as corporate beauty may be, Victoria’s Secret taught me how to merchandise and sell a rotating inventory of hundreds (if not thousands) of products, and I loved it most of the time. I finally quit in spring of 2016, so I could open my own shop.

And here we are. I love what I do. I love the fact that I get to work with my sister and spend my days with women I admire, clients and friends alike. But I am excited (and a bit terrified) to see where things go from here.