My Other Life

Yesterday, I got to get up and scream and dance and rave about things I'm passionate about to a bunch of unsuspecting high school students. This is my other life.*

It's not so different than when I'm doing author talks, but then I'm talking about things I love--books, art, passion, creativity, dark fantasy, strong protagonists, children's lit, or the fact that I'd like to help someone else along their publishing journey--rather than things that I hate. "Hate" is a strong word, and I don't use it lightly. But I hate H-A-T-E! that so many people believe that there is something fundamentally wrong with them and how that affects their lives at the core. Basically anything that ends in an "-ism" or appears on a pamphlet in a wellness center was the sort of thing that I looked around at my high school and wondered "?!?!?" Kids were *miserable* to themselves and one another, getting thinner (bulemia) or bigger (steroids) or smoother (plastic surgery) but rarely any happier (being human). Yes, there was smoking and drinking and drugs and smashing expensive cars around trees (which were prominently displayed in front of the local McDonalds, which might have been a deterrent if there hadn't been such a steady stream of them that the school basically looked forward to seeing which model would show up next. Over 40,000 kids served!) but for me the scariest thing was the stress, self-loathing and depression that seemed to be everywhere, across every cliche and social strata, every line of race, finances and gender. Where was this all coming from??? That's when I started thinking that most of this was stuff that we were surrounded with every day, an undercurrent message that we weren't good/smart/thin/strong/sexy/capable/whatever enough and it was wrapped around what our families thought and what the people who we were attracted to thought, too. Enter sex, gender, sexuality and the entire spectrum of feels that motivates and de-motivates ourselves at our core. It stood front-and-center at every decision and darkest worry in our deepest hearts and ate away at Who We Are and Who We Wanted To Be.**

I hate that.

These things come up in my writing, but for over 20 years of my life, I get up in front of people and shout about it. I am absolutely passionate about feeling happy. I find this in my everyday with friends and writing and being out in the world, but it's been a while since I've been able to get loud in a classroom. Yesterday, I spoke to a group of girls about media messages. I got to teach them something about the history of advertising, how it melded with psychology and associative imagery way back when soap became something "elegant" and caused a boom in sales that set the stage by which all other soaps, and all products, were judged and marketed right up to today. I asked them to identify the "stereotypical American woman" (a.k.a. Barbie) and realize that no one really looks like this, but we carry that knowledge in our hearts, that it lingers in the back of our social consciousness and comes out as the central message in advertising, which is this:

"There is something wrong with you and this will fix it."

And, yeah, I hate that, too.

So I deconstruct how the structure of an ad works and how color, lighting, choice of models and position plus a clever phrase gets people to shut off their brains and soak in a split-impression long enough to want whatever it is that they're selling; to feel a little worse, to feel a little inadequate, a tiny niggling worm of self-doubt and how this can take a little joy out of the day...but only if you let them. We got to take out some favorite magazines and see how this was happening. I got to see light bulbs go off. I got to see girls get curious, get interested, and get a little mad. I encouraged them not only to get mad, but get even. Not to fall for the byline and even write the companies back. Check out videos on photoshop manipulation and the Worst Offenders on about-face.org. Tell their sisters, their cousins, their moms, their friends. Spread the word. Be smart.

And you know what? I love that.

My best friend once told me that all I want to do is give the world a hug and, as cheesy as that sounds, he's right. I do. Writing is one way that I do that. This is another. Advertising media wants to sell you stuff by saying that there's something missing/wrong/bad with the way you are and exposing that it's all lies, because the MOST important thing to know is that if you're happy just the way you are, then you don't feel that you need anything else. You have a choice. You can choose wisely. Feeling like there's no choice is the worst and having that feeling based on lies and manipulation is basically abuse.

So here are some things I wanted to share:

About-face.org is a great site to learn about media manipulation and the violence it reflects inherent in our culture as explored by Jean Kilbourne in Killing Us Softly (1-4). And if you want to get a glimpse at what soap companies are doing now, you have to check out this classic video made by the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty.***

It's like something out of UGLIES but it's true in real life, right now.

Be happy. Choose powerfully. And remember: you're great just the way you are! *hug*

* Just in case you didn't know, writing is a HUGE part of my life, but only a part. This is another part. There are more.
** And this was back when AIDS was coined "the gay flu" and I absolutely couldn't stand the idea that anybody ANYBODY! was condemned to die so horribly because of something they could avoid (unsafe sex).
*** By the way, they're STILL mostly interested in selling you stuff.

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