Category Archives: Things I Think About Thursday

Yes, neo-conservative Christians, you SHOULD be afraid of Harry Potter- but not for the reason you think.

Yes, I know, this is ground that has been covered before. So why am I writing about it? Why now?

Simple. My Best Beloved sent me a link to an article from Americans Against the Tea Party about how a conservative Christian has rewritten Harry Potter so her children won’t turn into witches. And it made me angry. Spitting tacks angry.

This fear of witchcraft is something I have personal experience of. When I was 11, my parents got involved in my education. More involved than I wanted. But of course I was 11, what could I do?

It was October, in my English class. Season of a bunch of scary masks and stuff in windows that I still had to walk past with my eyes shut because monsters and vampires frightened me. My teacher announced that the following week, we would be working on ‘witch’s spells’. A bit of fun for Halloween. I was excited- creative writing was my favourite. Then I told my parents about it, and they told me in no uncertain terms that I would not be doing that, it was evil. It wasn’t Godly. End result? A letter to my teacher, who gets me to write some other poem, and an 11 year old girl already isolated from her peers gets even more left out.

To my knowledge, none of my class transferred to Hogwarts in their second year. And if they had, I’m certain an English class project wouldn’t have been the reason for it.

(Don’t even get me started on what happened when my parents found out about the end-of-year project my RE teacher had us doing involving making up a religion. That’s another blog post in and of itself.)

Harry Potter isn’t going to turn your kids into witches. But there’s plenty of other things in those books that I can see a Tea Partier like Grace Ann would be afraid of, going on the way she’s written the story.

The books teach us that being afraid of people who are different is very wrong. That being prejudiced against people because of their family background is wrong. That good people give others opportunities to make a good life for themselves, no matter if others might see that person as damaged goods.

Going on ‘Grace Ann’s version of Harry Potter, women are expected to fulfil the traditional roles of wife and mother and must make sure they take time over their appearance. Any woman who doesn’t is ugly. In the actual books, we’re shown women in a variety of capacities. We’re introduced to women who have chosen not to marry, but to have a career, and are both successful and admirable (Professor McGonagall, Madame Maxime). Women who are more interested in the life of the mind than in being pretty- but who still know how to do that if they feel like it (Hermione). We’re also shown women who are flawed, who get angry, who make mistakes, who are only human (Molly Weasley, Fleur Delacour). And we’re shown women who are as capable of evil as any man- Dolores Umbridge, Bellatrix Lestrange. If Grace Ann’s children read the Harry Potter books, they might get the idea that women can be many things outside of a wife and mother. Even more dangerous, they might get the idea that men and women can be friends.

I know, I know, the idea of men and women being friends doesn’t seem that dangerous. But I know married couples at evangelical churches who have been told they must not be friends with the opposite sex, because it’s dangerous for the marriage. I’ve even spent an evening alone in someone’s lounge when staying with such a married couple, while the husband was upstairs and the wife was out, because they had adopted this opinion.

It seems that what Grace Ann wants to teach her children is that they should hate and be afraid of anyone who is different, who doesn’t conform to the narrow stereotype being peddled by Tea Partiers of what people should be. She wants them to believe that not being a Christian, and a very specific kind of Christian, will turn you into a “fornicating, drug-addicted Evolutionist”.

Heaven forbid that Grace Ann’s children would learn to treat everyone with love and acceptance, no matter who they are, or what they’ve done, or who they love, or what they believe. Heaven forbid that they would learn that women and men can choose who they want to be, what they want to do with their lives, that their role in life is not dictated by their gender. Heaven forbid that they learn that there are people who think differently from them and that that does not make those people evil. That people are all different and that’s OK.

Be afraid, Tea Partiers whose children are reading Harry Potter (and be afraid- because you can’t actually stop them reading it- the wonderful thing about libraries is the free access to children’s books for children with or without parental permission) They won’t learn magic. But they might learn to be kind, caring human beings who reach out in love to those who are different and believe in them, instead of shunning them.

I know, I know. Terrifying.

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Seeing red and being seen, part 3: how I finally stopped worrying and learned to love makeup

It was last year that the person who changed my life came into it.

At least that’s how I see it. He would disagree, and tell you it all came from me. But my counsellor, who I was lucky enough to see for many weeks, was the one who gently suggested new ways of thinking.

It was him who realised that one of my biggest problems was that I was hiding. That it came from learning to be quiet, to disappear, to avoid confrontation. And then he asked me a question:

What could you do to stop hiding?

The answer was obvious. And terrifying. But I had to find a way to stop bottling myself up.

I already had several red lipsticks, sitting unused in my makeup box. I picked one. And the morning after my counselling session, I wore it.

And nothing terrible happened.

I don’t know what I was expecting. I was frightened somebody would notice it, comment on it. For a long time on the rare occasions I did wear makeup, even on my wedding day, I was terribly embarrassed about it. Somebody might realise I was wearing it, that I wanted to feel pretty. Somebody might notice.

The day after that, I wore it again.

I noticed something I hadn’t noticed since getting a job after many months of frustrating unemployment: I was walking taller. I was looking up. I was making eye contact. I was noticeable.

And it was OK.

I understand why a lot of women reject makeup. It’s their way of being seen as they are. For me, it was a way of hiding who I was and who I wanted to be.

I started to enjoy myself with it.

One day, a colleague commented on the lipstick. Complimented it in fact. And I didn’t want to run away. I didn’t feel uncomfortable.

A cashier at the sushi joint I frequented asked me what lip colour I was wearing. She loved it. I floated through the rest of the afternoon.

And then came the day when I looked in the mirror and, for the first time in a very long time, I saw myself as beautiful- something I had never really believed about myself before, if I’m being honest.

Obviously there was a lot more to it than lipstick, but for me, it’s become a tool I use to show love for myself. It’s been a long time coming.

Seeing red and being seen, part 2: The terrible teens

So from the bad beginning we’ve reached the time at which I started to look at makeup as something I wanted to play with. I wanted to, but I was terrified. By this point I had learned to hide and obey so well that I didn’t even realise that’s what I was doing some of the time. 

A side note- aged 11, I asked my Mum if it would be OK for me to kiss a boy. Yes, you read that right. A boy had asked if I kissed boys, and I went and asked my Mum. She told me no, because if I kissed boys I would have sex with them, and that was wrong. 

My parents, I think, didn’t want me to grow up. My Dad certainly didn’t want me to be more of a girl than I already was, but that’s perhaps a different story. 

Aged about 9 or 10, I got a book at the Junior School Book Fair. It was called ‘Freaky Fashions’ by Caroline Archer (you can still find copies on Abebooks). The second-to-last chapter was about make-up. I pored over the different eyeshadow combinations, longing to try out the crazy colours. Then I asked about getting some.

No, no, no! Eyeshadow was MUCH too old. Eventually, Mum relented enough, when I was about 13, to buy me some blusher. I think I used it once, but was horrified at people noticing it. Noticing me. No! Hide! So it sat in my drawer for years. 

13 was also when I got my first lipstick. I didn’t actually buy one, it was a free gift with ‘Shout!’ one of a slew of teenage magazines that were launched around that time. The only one of those I wasn’t allowed was ‘Just Seventeen’- “But you’re NOT SEVENTEEN!”. Again, I digress. The lipstick in question was from Collection 2000, and It. Was. RED. Very red. Confident, bold, adventurous, noticeable. All the things I wasn’t. I would sit and look at it in my room. From time to time I would take off the lid and gingerly twist the bottom of the tube. Just to look at it. I think once I may even have tried some on the back of my hand. 

The other girls at school, of course, didn’t have the same fears I did. Or if they did, they had worked out what I hadn’t- that now was the time to rebel against the rules laid down by your parents. To buy things you weren’t supposed to. To make mistakes. To kiss boys and stay out late, and wear wild colours on your face.

Then the Body Shop opened a branch in our town. The excitement! What was (to us girls in a small commuter town in the 1990s) fancy bath stuff, and perfume, and, yes, make up. Designed by a make-up ARTIST no less. A girl in my class, Anna, showed me her All-in-One Face Base and my goodness, I was envious. I watched, fascinated, as Kelly Bond applied BRIGHT pink lipstick in class. As Mia used a stick of concealer all over her face as a concealer- and didn’t get told to take it off. My heart fluttered when I saw other girls wearing makeup- and I thought it was fear. No, no, no. Mustn’t. Shouldn’t. Can’t. 

I got brave enough, on a rare random time when my Dad offered to buy me a book, to get a book on make-up. The Usborne First Book of Make-Up, no less. I read that over and over, looking with longing at the least terrifying of the tutorials- the natural look. Tinted moisturiser, clear lipgloss, mascara. Yes. That I could deal with. I’d be wearing it, but nobody would know! 

After some persistence from me, and I’ve never been quite sure why she agreed to it, Mum allowed me to book in for a free makeover at the Body Shop. To say I was excited was an understatement. I fantasised about getting lipgloss, the all-important All In One Face Base. Things that people wouldn’t see. 

What I got was the one-size-fit-all makeover. EVERYTHING layered on. It was the greasepaint all over again. I felt horribly self-conscious and I was wearing too much on my face and then my brother said my eyelashes looked too dark. To be honest, if Mum hadn’t been there with me I might have been brave enough to tell the assistant exactly what I wanted to try. But she was, and I wasn’t. Not for the first time, or the last, I sat there and accepted things I didn’t want.

At 17 I discovered Britpop and finally, FINALLY, got a Just 17 Yearbook, with advice on how to look like Justine Frischmann. Who didn’t wear makeup, just Vaseline on her lips. And so I hid without realising I was hiding, behind a facade of not wearing makeup, just as so many other girls hid behind a face of tinted moisturiser, and mascara, and lipgloss. Like every other lonely, awkward teenager, I had found a mask to wear. It was just that mine was petroleum jelly and, aside from occasional medicated tea-tree-oil concealer, bare, acne covered skin. 

But I still looked at makeup. From then until really quite recently, I would pore over the beauty section of magazines, of the Avon catalogue, of any special offer that came through for lipstick once the internet took off. 

And do you know what? I was always looking at the red lipsticks. (Except when I was eyeing up glitter eyeliner but that’s another story). 

And then, to coin a lyric from a Pulp song (part of the soundtrack of those awkward hiding years), something changed. 

But you’ll have to wait until next week to find out what. 

Seeing red and being seen: How I learned to stop worrying and love lipstick, part 1: The Bad Beginning

All the red lipsticks

Yeah, so this still life ended up a bit 80s-tastic-vaseline-on-the-lens. It was my first attempt at one!

Make-up used to squick me out. I’m not kidding. Especially lipstick. When I tell you that the above is just a small selection of the lip colours I now own, and that of those about 75% are red, red, red, the fact that for a very long time I didn’t wear any may surprise you.

I blame ballet. 

Actually, it would be more accurate to say that I blame the stage mothers who used to volunteer to help with the ballet concerts my dance school would put on every second year. Somehow, it didn’t matter which of the Mums I got doing my stage makeup- and stage makeup was my first experience with putting stuff on my face that wasn’t just itchy-scratchy face-paint crayons. The result was always the same- they felt the need to lay on the greasepaint with a trowel. And that wasn’t something they did to everyone. 

This told me, aged about 6, two things. One: that makeup felt absolutely disgusting, thick and self-conscious-making and Too. Much. Two: that I wasn’t as pretty as the other girls. They didn’t have huge balloons of bright pink blusher on them, or inch-thick deep pink lipstick. Yuk. 

My mother almost never wore makeup. In fact, I would bet you could look in her makeup bag now and she would still have the same makeup in there she had back in the 1980s when I used to, occasionally, out of curiosity, take it out and look at it. And I mean the exact same- not thrown out and replaced. The Almay eyeshadow in ‘Peacock’, the ‘Honey Beige’ frosted lipstick, the concealer. I can remember the precisely two times she wore it when I was growing up. Both times I got upset- I wasn’t used to seeing her with makeup on. It didn’t look like her. She certainly didn’t encourage me to wear it either. I tried on lipstick only once growing up, and that was my Nan’s. A mistake- it was the same bright pink as that greasepaint and I wanted it off halfway round our shopping in the town where my grandparents lived but couldn’t take it off until we got home. 

I’ve since realised that what put me off wearing it was, at least in part, being terribly shy. I was often told off for being too loud- being seen and heard was a Bad Thing. Makeup made you seen and heard. Therefore, I avoided it. 

But I still longed for it. And then, as you’ll see, came being a teenager. 

 

Ink on a pin, underneath the skin

I’ve wanted to do it for years. Ever since, aged 21, I was in Poland with a group of other people my age, most of whom had beautiful tattoos.

I hadn’t realised that they could be beautiful.

With the upbringing I had, tattoos were not something encouraged. Not tattoos, not tarot, nothing alternative, nothing new age. No, no, no. Not OK. Red! Do. Not. Enter.  The people with unusual hair colours and ink and piercings were weird. They were dangerous. They wore leather. Probably they were going to attack. I remember my heart would flutter in terror when I saw them, how I would retreat into myself, try not to draw attention (as with so very many other people.)

It took me a long time to realise that I wanted to be one of them. That the ink, the colours, are who I am, too.

My first step into this world involved a magic symbol. Magnet magic, to attract the best things for our dreams. A bunch of us realised we wanted it in our skin, each tattoo with our own unique spin on it.

I talked to a friend who has gone under the needle several times. He recommended someone. I found the studio- not too hard to get to, it turned out. Went in, consulted about the design.

On Tuesday, the day of the New Moon (in NZ anyway, a good day to start something new and magical), I sat on the steps of the parlour, talking myself into and out of going through with it many times while my tattooist rushed back from Waiheke Island having missed the ferry. I nearly left when it was 10 minutes after we were supposed to start and he still wasn’t there.

“Hang around the area” said my Best Beloved, who was going to be in the town centre and who I had planned to meet with for mid-shift kisses. “Give him a chance to show up.”

He did. I sat watching him get everything ready, the ink, the carefully sealed fresh needles, the clingfilm, the machine. Talking myself into and out of it again, and back into it. We fussed over placement- I spoke my mind. It was good for me.

Let me tell you, outlining hurts like a motherf***er. Not as bad as the time I had to have local anaesthetic injected into my arm, but still- such pain. Very ouch. “The outline always hurts more than the shading”, my artist told me as I took deep breaths occasionally punctuated with “ow, ow, ow!”. Strange, since outlining uses a single needle where shading uses three. But it was true. The shading was less painful.

Soon there it was in my skin, the magnet magic, the purple swirls (Cadbury purple, my favourite). Then clingwrap over it, and a paper towel, and making sure I got home before the hour was up so I could clean off the blood with lukewarm water and soapless cleanser (he said it didn’t have to be soapfree, but I was glad it was- less stinging).

Now I’m pinning ideas for two half-sleeves, lots of them. I was warned that it’s addictive. They were right. I’m glad, though, that I started small. And magical.

 

On compliments: A simple way to boost your self-esteem.

It’s all thanks to Reese Witherspoon. 

I can’t remember how many years it was ago now, but I remember reading an interview with her in which she said that when people compliment her she always simply says “thank you”.

Think about it. When people pay you a compliment what do you say? 

Do you thank them? Or do you come out with something like “what, this? Oh, but it’s really cheap/I just threw it on/I’m not sure about it… and anyway yours is much nicer/it’s all thanks to my hairdresser…”

What are you really saying to them? Do you mean that their compliment isn’t worth that much? That you don’t deserve it? 

Next time someone gives you a compliment, try simply saying ‘thank you’. If you feel the need to embellish, how about “I got it at this great shop…” or “I like your __________ too”. Or just SMILE and say thank you. Notice how different it feels. How much better. 

You’re not downplaying yourself. You’re not downplaying them. You’re taking the kindness they’ve sent your way and sending some of your own back to them. 

Simple, no?

(And when you’ve practiced that one, try this- say something when someone says, does, looks or wears something good. Don’t just think it, let them know. You may well make their day.)

The Dark Mark (in which Ellen finds she has more to say)

Sometimes it’s there for a reason.

Sometimes it just appears.

You didn’t choose it, but there it is. One day, you’re minding your own business when you notice the pain. Sometimes you don’t even notice the pain. Either way you look down at your forearm and there it is. 

The Dark Mark.

You’ve heard stories about it, of course. Maybe someone in your family had it. Maybe it was a friend. Maybe they survived. Maybe they didn’t. Either way, you have it now.

The Dark Mark.

Maybe you try to ignore it. Maybe you try to think your way out of it. Maybe you hide it, hoping it’ll go away all by itself. Maybe if you don’t press at it, it won’t show. Only you will know it’s there. 

None of these things will get rid of the Mark. You’ll keep looking at your forearm and there it’ll still be, even though others can’t see it. 

The sensible ones are the ones who talk about it. Who pull back their sleeve, push against their flesh, bring it into the light for others to see. Maybe they ask around online. Maybe they talk to friends or family. You know, the ones who had the Dark Mark. If they survived it. Maybe they go to the doctor and talk to them about it. 

And they find that they’re not alone. That they never were. When one person reveals their Mark, others start revealing theirs. The survivors, or the ones who are still trying to get rid of the Mark. Or the ones who know that it’s there to stay, who are living with it and doing their best to keep it at bay.

Maybe after some time, the Dark Mark fades. If you’re lucky. If you put the work in. But the thing about it is, it’s been there. That potential is always there. It could come back at any time. 

I’m sure by now you know what I’m talking about. 

I have depression. It’s fading. It’s taken over a year. When it first showed up it was one of the worst weekends of my life. It’s taken medicine, and help. I don’t want to hide my Mark. It’s there. It could come back. That terrifies me. 

But I know I’m not facing it alone. That’s how I know my depression isn’t as deep as what others have had to deal with (like the former flatmate I had to take to the ER because I knew that if I didn’t he was going to kill himself). I’m one of the lucky ones. 

I pray that one day, everyone will see depression for what it is. That there won’t be a stigma about it. That people who have the Dark Mark will be able to be open about it without fear, because right now, fear keeps a lot of people silent, hiding away when they most need to reach out to others. 

Please, if you have depression, talk to someone. Get help. I know there is a voice telling you you’re alone. That nothing will work. That there’s no point.

That voice is a lie. Together, we can beat it. 

Not. One. More.