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: Part 2

Today’s interview consists of my favorite questions from previous interviews. Some of them have been altered slightly.

Photos by: Annika Botha https://www.annikabotha.com/

Why did you decide to build a career in the beauty industry?

The simple answer is because I’m a naturally creative person who loves to do makeup. Even when I wasn’t very good at it, I was still pretty good at it. And because my parents instilled a great deal of unearned confidence in me as a child, I kept practicing and getting better even when the eyeliner was too thick, my brows looked too dark, or someone called me a “clown” with too much blush on. It never seemed to phase me much. I didn’t take it personally because my creations were always somewhat separate from myself. More like art, less like glamour.

I think that careers in the beauty industry can absolutely be trained, taught, and learned. However, I think that many of the most successful beauty professionals I know have a bit of natural talent somewhere. Whether it’s practical, like makeup application, or a little bit more abstract, like the ability to communicate well and deeply empathize with others.

The complicated answer is more along the lines of the Oprah quote: “You don’t get what you deserve, you get what you intend.” I always positioned myself in a job near to the beauty industry. My original idea was to join my best friend Ashley Ellix, and attend beauty school right out of high school. Then go to college to get my writing degree once I had a career that could pay for it. I graduated when I was seventeen, and my parents wouldn’t allow it. Beauty school dropout and all that, I guess. So I went to journalism school first. Looking back on it, that allowed me to seriously build my knowledge in the industry. Working at Victoria’s Secret (running their beauty department), Estee Lauder, doing freelance artistry and working the front desk at a spa paid the bills while I was in college, but provided me with some serious beauty experience. And a lot of real business experience.

I moved up the ladder and was offered a couple of different pathways: climbing the corporate chain with Victoria’s Secret, or becoming a full time esthetician at a spa I worked at. I chose the latter, knowing that small business was more my style, and I didn’t know if I wanted to leave the area. Years later I was approached about a business partnership and the idea of owning (or co-owning) my own skincare and makeup studio was suddenly an option. I had never considered that before. A couple of years later after that deal fell through, I opened my own studio. You get what you intend. Even if you’re not exactly sure what that looks like.

I think that for me it was always important that I have a job that allowed me to be creative, and work as far away from “the man” as possible. I work very well with others, however, I do not work well with bosses. I think that just as important, coming out of college with a ton of student debt, from a family that struggled with money, I needed to work in an industry that could give me monetary security. News writing is not that industry. It doesn’t pay very well, and it’s highly politicized so I knew my dreams of writing about what I was passionate about would be crushed, leaving me disillusioned. I also think that in the back of my mind I somehow knew that I wanted to keep writing close, to save it for later when I could choose what I would write about.

Now, my beauty career is more about community and entrepreneurship and less about the art. Reconciling those two aspects of business is the journey I’m currently on. But I wouldn’t trade it in for anything else.

What’s it like working with your sister?

It’s the most stress-free work environment I can imagine because we both just do our jobs. I know that sounds incredibly simplistic, but it’s the truth. We take care of our clients, show up on time, keep the shop clean, offer the same level of service, and are basically on the same page regarding all political and social issues that we may encounter as a business. Essentially, we don’t have to deal with any annoying coworker or boss issues, and we can trust each other with the business as a whole, and with each other’s clients.

Most people assume that we spend a lot of time together, but because we’re estheticians and spend 99% of our time in our treatment rooms, we actually see each other for about ten minutes a day. So we have to schedule time outside of work to see each other!

I love working with Christina and am happy that I was able to create a safe space for us to work together and build our careers. As an older sister it also makes me feel proud to watch her succeed.

Do you think working with predominantly female clientele and colleagues help to create a sense of community? If so, why?

YES. The answer to this question is simple for me. The more women I collaborate with, meet, and have as clients, the more full my life becomes, and the stronger our community and world become.

As girls, we’re taught the lie that women don’t work well together. That we are “catty, not supportive, back-stabbing,” and “dramatic” when we form groups. This is a lie the patriarchy constructed to keep us separated from each other, and out of our collective power. I believe with ever fiber of my being that our liberation lies is collaboration and empowerment of other women.

Women are people. We are individuals. We all have personalities and problems and flaws. We will not all get along with each other. However, there is nothing written in our DNA that states that once too many of us enter into the same room, we magically turn into passive aggressive bitches. We need to unlearn it, and I think the way that I’ve unlearned this lie is by putting myself in room after room after room full of women. In beauty school, in college (I was a Woman’s Studies minor), at work in a female-dominated industry, and by actively going to other businesses owned and run by women.

All the business connections I’ve made, the friends that have lifted me up, the opportunities I’ve been recommended for and the success I’ve had in my industry are all possible due to a strong network of women. Plain and simple.

What is beauty to you and how do you use your work to foster this idea?

To me, beauty is a lot of things. But mostly it’s a choice. Beauty is whatever you need it to be in that moment, for you, because ultimately it’s a feeling, and it’s fluid.

We have all been taught (especially as women) what is considered “beautiful.” I think that real beauty comes in the messy unlearning of that false ideal. In discovering what makes you feel good, happy, healthy and whole.

Beauty can be the full face of makeup you put on to cover up your sadness, or the full face of makeup you put on because you’re happy. It can be the feeling you get from a clean face. It can be art. It can be practical. It can be a feeling of calm, or a feeling of excitement. It can be messy or orderly. Dark or light, subtle or loud. It can take physical form outside the body in many ways but it’s also something inside of us.

At this point in my career, I think that one of the most important things I try to keep in mind is that my goal is to help you to feel beautiful. So my real job is to discover what that means. Not to impart my own ideas of what beautiful should be.

What is one valuable lesson you’ve learned from spending so much time with women of different backgrounds and life situations?

I’ve learned that I don’t know everything, and I should be grateful for what I have.

I would elaborate, but I think that is fairly self explanatory.

What is one piece of advice you have for someone wanting to enter into the beauty industry as a professional?

I learned this piece of advice from a dear friend and someone I would consider a mentor: You teach people how to treat you.

This is true in your personal life, but also in business. As a new beauty professional you will want to take every client that calls, work long and unpredictable hours, try to be nice when people don’t show up or cancel last minute, and make every concession to accommodate new clients. I did all of these things for years.

And while I absolutely think that working hard and being flexible in the beginning of your career is integral to building a solid long-term clientele, I also think that you will attract people who value the same principles and boundaries that you establish. Do you want clients that show up on time? Be prompt. Do you want clients that rarely cancel? Rarely cancel. Do you want clients that treat you like a professional? Treat your clients with professionalism.

This will, over time, eliminate potential clients that don’t understand why you’re treating them this way. Clients who are always late will rarely be compatible with a professional that always runs on time. Clients who text you at midnight will rarely be compatible with someone who clearly states their business hours in response to those texts. I also think that this helps your clients to see you as a person with a life outside of your business, not simply a service person obligated to wait on them.

Photos by: Annika Botha https://www.annikabotha.com/