The Body Series :: On Faces + Symmetry

When I start to look at faces too long, I feel like an alien. Human faces are so weird. They’re so different. They communicate so much information, but they are weeeiiiirrrdddd. And I love them. I love interesting faces. 

I remember in my human sexuality class, we learned about how the more symmetrical a face is, the more “beautiful” it is considered by the population at large. Studies have shown that famous movie stars, models, etc all have very symmetrical faces. This was not great news for me at a time when I very much judged my worth by my perceived attractiveness.

Over the years I have come to know very well the ways in which my face is very much not symmetrical. My nose slants to the left. Not only is it the rather large statement piece and focal point of my face, but it’s definitely a little crooked. Today, I love it. I actually believe it when I say “it gives me character,” a phrase I first heard in middle school and clung to with a fervent desperation. However, it took awhile before this smelling machine I not so lovingly would call a bazonker became a welcome part of my face.

 Trying to smile, but the right side is not cooperating...

Trying to smile, but the right side is not cooperating...

I also experienced a several month bout of Bell’s Palsy the summer before I went away to college. For those of you who don’t know, Bell’s Palsy is a pretty mysterious virus that paralyzes half your face. That’s right. Two months before one of the biggest transitions of my life, the right half of my face literally stopped moving. I wholeheartedly believe there is some sort of psychosomatic connection to that happening, but that is analysis and speculation for another time.

It happened slowly one sunny summer day. At first my lip felt weird when I put on my chap stick, but I didn’t think much of it. Then, as I was driving my beloved blue Mini Cooper, Syd Barrett (I was way into Pink Floyd in high school… and I should note I’m actually wearing a Pink Floyd shirt as I type this), I caught a glimpse in the rear view mirror and noticed my eye wasn’t quite blinking. I called my mom who panicked at the possibility that I might be having a stroke, before we sorted out this whole Bell’s Palsy diagnosis. 

During those months I was devastated. My high school boyfriend and I broke up the day before he left for UNC, and most of my friends had already gone away. I, however, was starting my first semester at Northwestern in September and had been spending my days working in my dad’s office. I remember calling my ex one night in tears while he was at a party. I was so devastatingly sad. I felt like a monster. Sometimes it was hilarious, but sometimes it was horrible. I was very attached to the idea of being “hot.” I hadn’t yet learned the medicine of laughing at yourself.

I went to physical therapy which included exercises to try to wake up the sleeping muscles and nerve endings along with some electric shock to get the muscles to twitch. What a bizarre time. My sister introduced me to the person who would become my freshman year roommate who later told me she thought I hated her when we first met because I tried not to smile and had a weird time chewing and eating. I also slept with an eye patch because my eye wouldn’t close on its own. 

As the first day of college approached, I grew more and more terrified of meeting new people with a not quite perfect face. It had gotten better, but wasn’t quite right. To my surprise, no one really noticed and by the end of my first month there my face had gone mostly back to normal. The right side of my face still feels a little different sometimes. Especially around my eye and cheek, but other than the echoes of paralysis, I’ve pretty much got full functionality. 

That whole episode has left me painfully aware of the uneven parts of myself. The whole right side of my body it usually stiffer, it’s the side with the bigger bunion (more on that next week), the tighter hips, the weaker glutes, the knottier shoulder and back. Sometimes, I feel like a lopsided mess, but over time I’ve learned that unevenness isn’t a curse. It’s information.

And faces… well, they’re still weird and beautiful, symmetrical or not.

The Body Series :: Hair: On Growth + Removal

Oh hair. It's beautiful and magnificent and should be grown long. Or, it's gross and should be shaved, waxed, tweezed, lasered, threaded or at the very least trimmed. Which is it? Depends on where your hair grows and how many fucks you give.

Let's start with head hair. Until about 2 years ago, mine was always long (except for a brief bob period in 2nd grade). When I started ballet, I put it in buns and french braids. throughout middle school, I contorted it in a range of hair styles that I copied from episodes of Charmed (shout out to the LATINA REBOOT), Sabrina the Teenage Witch and any other intricate butterfly clip and pinned up combinations I found. 

  Bangs... never again

Bangs... never again

By high school, I wore it down a lot using mousse to turn Miami humidity induced frizz into waves and threw it up in a messy bun for sports, workouts, and exceptionally hot days. (I had a couple of bangs phases which were always more trouble than they were worth tbh. I don't think I'll ever go back to that life again.) And through college and my early twenties it stayed at various stages of "boob length" always long enough to touch some part of my chest area.

  Before (photo taken in my old office bathroom)

Before (photo taken in my old office bathroom)

My hair is pretty low maintenance. I have what they call "fine hair," which is a fancy of saying very very thin. At it's longest, my hair wrapped in a bun would create a tiny knot that you would easily encircle with a single finger. Whenever I decided to actually style or blow dry it, the process never took longer than 20 minutes. Sure, I didn't have a gorgeous thick mane, the kind that creates epic and beautiful braids, but it was so easy to manage.

  After (also taken in my old office bathroom with a more intense version of the same weird face)

After (also taken in my old office bathroom with a more intense version of the same weird face)

But then something happened. Break throughs in therapy, a desire to experience "non-attachment", a reclaiming of all parts of my body. Whatever it was, I needed my hair cut. Very short. We started with baby steps going just above shoulder length in the spring of 2016, but by the summer I was rocking an undershave and loving it. Where there times I wondered "what the fuck have you done"? Of course. But overall, it was a welcome change. 

  This photo really freaked my mom out.

This photo really freaked my mom out.

There's something cathartic about cutting off hair. A reason why the scene where Mulan slices into her mane with a sword (which would never actually work but the magic of cartoons, baby) illicits such strong emotions. But there are two sides to this coin. Was I slicing off the male gaze? Past experiences? Regret? Societal expectations? Or was I chopping off my femininity? Was I trying to look more bad ass and masculine to shake off any perceived weakness? This is all unconscious, of course. I wasn't at the hair salon like, "excuse me I want a cut that says I reject the male gaze of patriarchy, but I also have so much instilled misogyny in me that I want to simultaneously reject my femininity." Not that the length of your hair is congruent with femininity. I obviously cannot shave my femininity if I tried. You can be bald and still hella feminine. Hello every single member of the Dora Milaje, And to that point, femininity can be strong and fierce and powerful. This is just the unconscious bias of a patriarchal culture that views "feminine" traits, leadership styles and emotions as inferior. That's a lot of shit to project onto a fucking hair style.

  This was very very short. But I don't haaate it <3

This was very very short. But I don't haaate it <3

The funny thing is, I found myself looking for different ways to express my femininity with short hair. Whether by accentuating my curves or applying thick eyeliner. Somewhere in all the confusion, I found my own gaze. I figured out the ways I feel good. Where and when I wanted to look a certain way. I decided that I really like my hair at every length, which is pretty cool.

But what about all the OTHER hair? WTF do we do about that. It's tricky business either conforming to societal standards and maintaining body autonomy, but the closest conclusion I've come to is... WHATEVER THE FUCK YOU WANT.

Here'e me:

Legs: I've shaved them since I was in 5th grade. I am Latina and have very dark hair. It came in thick when I was young and I wasn't really into it. I like shaving my legs. It feels extra clean to me. It's a nice once a week ritual. 

Bikini / Pubic area: The details are personal and vary depending on mood, but I did laser the bikini line area. I grew up in Miami and was in bathing suits a lot and had massive ingrown hairs. Laser is expensive, but it has saved me a lot of pain and annoyance. I still have to shave if I want it to be perfectly clean, but it's nothing compared to what once was.

"Happy Trail": Lasered and don't really have hair anymore. I was so self conscious about it as a kid. I'm glad it's something I literally never think about anymore.

Armpits: Lasered. Same as Bikini line. I still grow a little hair, but the relief from ingrowns is really incredible.

Arms: I used to wax them (I used to wax a lot of things, but that phase didn't last long. Waxing is the worst), but my ex told me my arm hair made me look like Wolverine, and I haven't really had the urge to wax them since Logan came out. 

Mustache: It's tiny, but it's there. Not enough to cause worry. I just tweeze the stray dark hairs when I'm inspired to, but most of the time I don't notice enough to care.

Eyebrows: I am blessed with the most low maintenance eyebrows. I have a few stray hair I pluck once a month. If you envy me anything, this is the thing.'

Nipple hair: This is the most emotionally charged one of all. I remember reading in a Cosmo when I was around 12 or 13 some dude saying that if a woman had hair on her nipples it was a deal breaker or some shit. Fuck that dude and fuck Cosmo for printing that. I still tweeze it sometimes, but I'm no longer terrified that men (and women) that I am attracted to will be horrified by tiny little hairs when I take of my shirt or bra.

  Pretty sure this was the longest my hair ever was... right before I chopped it off.

Pretty sure this was the longest my hair ever was... right before I chopped it off.

What do you do? Why do you do it? Does it even matter? My routines have simplified significantly over the years because I have better ways to spend my time than wondering about my hair all the time. It's dark and it's beautiful and I love it. And I love the parts that I remove. I love the simplicity of it. The cleanliness of it. Whatever your grooming routine, male, female, trans or non-binary, I hope it elevates you and I hope you don't let Cosmo circa 2002 freak you out.

And as for head hair? Cut it short. Let is grow. I'll probably bounce back to boob length some day soon... and then cut it all over again :)

The Body Series :: Skin: On Blemishes + Color

My skin is comprised of stripes and spots. Dashes and dots. Morse code collections of imperfection littered from head to toe across, over and around the expanse of my epidermis. The freckles I never had an issue with. Unlike Jan from the Brady Bunch, I reveled in the speckles that framed my nose and cheeks. That popped up along my arms and legs. The one precious dot northeast of my belly button. I have always loved my body constellations adding pops of coloration to a delicate canvas. It was the hidden spots I despised. Cellulite. Just the word makes me cringe. Hell, I still don't love it. Even if I learned to love and admire the expanses of my body, the shapes of fertility goddesses and warrior women, what statues show those thigh dimples? What paintings of the overculture express those tiny depressions echoed by the spirals of darkness that swirl inside me? (BTW if you know of some, my eyes and inbox are open.)

  Standing so my cellulite won't show

Standing so my cellulite won't show

I'm also not just talking about the regular old smattering of it across my ass and thighs. The bits that I threatens my sensibilities when I squeeze the upper under arm skin just right. You see, I have this one singular crater that pops inward on my right thigh if I don’t tuck the mass of that leg in when I’m sitting. I first noticed her in high school. When I swam and played water polo, the one piece swim suit left my thighs open to the public and sitting on the benches before practice, there she appeared surrounded by a family of little sisters, but did she stand out. She still does. I still tuck her in sometimes, preferring not to poke at that extra cottage cheese indentation. Fact. I have never eaten cottage cheese because I have heard cellulite compared to it for so much of my life. I’m not really interested in unpacking that in particular, I just think it’s kind of messed up but also deeply hilarious.

To make matters worse, somehow the light of fitting rooms always manages to accentuate the worst of it. Maybe my improvement in self-esteem has to do with the fact that I haven't set foot in a fitting room in over a year. (Except in December at REI to try on ski pants which was way more chill that the barrage of ill fitting clothes at a department store or boutique.) I suspect beauty companies that promise the disappearance of this very normal and very genetic “defect” pay off department stores with too small clothes to perpetuate the cycle of consumerism that keeps them all in our pockets. Maybe that’s why I can't "shop" anymore, selecting pieces to try on one after in a parade of self judgement for not fitting perfectly into clothes meant for a body that is not mine.

Oh, and how could I forget acne. I never had it terribly as a teen. My face flushed with the occasional spot. I had extremely oily skin so it was par for the course. The funny thing is, once I stopped trying to dry out and exfoliate my face, everything sort of normalized and now my face routine is a simple cream whenever I feel like it (maybe a few times per week) and a Korean sheet mask once every month or two. However, it still plagues my back sometimes. Whether it's my sports bras or hair, I'll get painful red constellations back there every now and again, making summer time a bummer and backless dresses and embarrassing nightmare. And then if I am not careful with how much I sweat in my spandex pants, I can occasionally get some on my butt. That's right. I wrote it. You can read it. Sometimes I get pimples on my butt. I am cringing right now knowing I will press publish on this, but damnit, a lot of us do. And if you get pimples on your butt, I want you to know sometimes it happens and it's annoying, but whateverrrrrr. They go away. The end. 

So these spots, the cellulite and pimples, I am not so enlightened that I am thrilled by them. If there really was a miracle treatment that got rid of my cellulite, I would actually consider it if that shit were natural and god for me, but I also don't NEED to love them. They don't take away from the experience of the rest of what my body can do. They appear. They disappear. They are. Again, WHATEVER.

Then we have the stripes. I saw a Tumblr post where a little girl asked her mom what her stretch marks were and the mom responded that they were her tiger stripes. The daughter then exclaimed that she couldn't wait for her stripes. That hit my soul. I fucking loved it. But we’re not there yet. First, we need to talk about the first cracks along the fault lines of my body. 

When stretch marks first show up, they are a pinkish purple. They open up across skin that’s not quite ready to stretch so far. For me, they hit my breasts, thighs and hips pretty hard during high school. They were like a target for the areas of me that were getting too big. Areas that could not be contained by my skin. Streaking me in places I was already self-conscious of. I remember being scared of having someone go down on me because they would see the especially big stretch mark on my right inner thigh. Luckily, I have made peace with him and kind of enjoy playing with the way the skin smooths and indents there, but man did that take time. Because you see, the pinks and purples eventually fade in with the rest of the skin and the stripes and they sink in and snuggle and become a part of you. These guys I don't mind. But maybe you do. And that's okay. You don't have to love your stretch marks. I like mine because I like what they represent. That I cannot be contained by my skin, so it has altered itself to fit me.

Of course, how can I move through the complex relationships we have with our skin, the cocoon that wraps the body in its gentle yet surprisingly tough embrace without discussing its color. Oh boy. Let's dive in. For me, that color is an ever changing extra pale to slightly tanned sprinkled with the aforementioned freckles. And despite my youthful endeavors to constantly darken it, that stays a pretty constant privilege in my life. There are many folks better versed in the complexity of this experience who have explained how this affects individuals and society at large (you can look here, herehere and here for starters), but for the purposes of this series, I’ll stick to how this affects the experience of living in the body, (and if you're bummed this got kind of political, I'm sorry but we live in a world where bodies are political if you're a woman or person of color.)

The complex layers of colorism within the Latin American community run deep.  You can’t be pasty pale like a gringo, but too tan, and you “look like a housekeeper,” a phrase designed to differentiate the more Spanish of us from the more indigenous and black populations. It’s like a modern day caste system. Instead of criollo and mestizo and mulatto (which are all still used, just less so in the United States), there are jokes about color in a space that feels more mundane and less steeped in colonialism (even though it very much is). I do not condone that kind of phrasing, nor did I make it up and it grosses me out, and it's not only hella racist, but hella classist, but that is the truth of what is said behind closed doors and we need to start questioning it. Sorry for that insane run on sentence, but yeesh.

[Before I move on, I want to say if this is hard for you to hear, I get it. Confronting unconscious bias and shadow shit is messy and uncomfortable. It's not about being right or wrong. It's about looking inside and being very honest about beliefs you hold that have their basis is false narratives. That come from other people "saying so" instead of your own experience. How many times did I hear from white and light skinned people that "black people are lazy"? A lot. How many times has that narrative proven true in the people I meet and interact with every day while living in a predominantly black neighborhood? Literally zero times. This isn't comfortable for me to write. That's the work. That's expansion. Get uncomfortable.]

  Unconsciously basking in the sunlight of light skinned privilege...

Unconsciously basking in the sunlight of light skinned privilege...

As a milkier Latina, getting too dark was never an issue for me because I am what you call "passing." (The Netflix One Day at a Time reboot tackles this beautifully and Isabel Gomez talks about her experience with that episode here.) As in, I "pass" for white. We learn that the Spaniards were conquistadors, but we forget that most of us lighter skinned Latinx folks are descended from those conquerors, just like white folks here are descended from the British ones. Spain just lost out in the fight for super powerdom and thus we don’t think of Spaniards the way we think of the British colonialists who went on to go for the rest of the world in the centuries that followed. There are different prejudices for sure, being an immigrant in this country despite your color, and being fetishized by men the second they find out you’re “exotic” (on a first date a man grabbed my thighs and told me, “I bet you have a fat Cuban pussy” but that is a tale for another time), but the elitism and white privilege in Latin America is still the same. I remember reading in a sociology book that Cubans were the most successful Latin American immigrants in the US. Sure, Cubans are the best, and I will shout it from the rooftops, but as I've grown older, I wonder if that success came from the light privilege that accompanied many of the Cubans who were able to leave in the late 50s and early 60s as the Castro regime first took hold. Yikes. I know I keep bouncing from history lesson to present day issues a lot but it’s all connected. 

  The tone I aspired to be (and if I'm being 100% honest, I still do).

The tone I aspired to be (and if I'm being 100% honest, I still do).

Why am I talking about any of this? Because the skin we inhabit, its color, its pigmentation, its melanin, affects millions of people's abilities to love their bodies. To feel safe in them. To allow them to feel like home. It’s one thing to move through cycles of imperfection, it’s quite another entirely to feel like your skin makes you a target for violence. I cannot imagine what that must be like. There are parts of me that make me vulnerable, sure, but for the entire surface area of your body to be a calling card for discrimination because of false narratives dictated by colonizers, to make them feel better about owning people is beyond fucked. I've seen videos of young black girls choosing white dolls over black ones because they have been conditioned to believe the white ones are prettier and it breaks my heart. Folks using umbrellas just to avoid the slightest darkening of their skin. Meanwhile, the white girls and light skinned Latinas like me were sitting poolside throughout all of high school slathering Maui Babe Browning Lotion all over our bodies to find that perfect shade of darker, without questioning the unconscious biases we held towards folks who glowed in those tones naturally.

We have beauty brands urging us to “love the skin you’re in,” but what about when that skin doesn’t conform to your BS beauty standards? This isn’t all gloom and doom. We’ve made tremendous progress over the past decade. We’re moving past the “colorblind” motto of the 90s… slowly but surely… and moving into a space where “Black” isn’t a bad word. Where every skin color has beauty and value, just like the souls and bodies inside those sacks of cells. But there is still work to do. So I guess to conclude this piece, I hope you made peace with your blemishes, even if you don’t like them. I hope the skin that wraps you up feels like a home. I hope that one day everyone can feel safe in their skin. I hope we can continue to question the fucked up things we were taught growing up by an ignorant society concerned with maintaining the status quo of white supremacy and create a world that facilitates that safety. And I hope that if you are white or lighter skinned and you hear those shitty jokes, you say something, even if everyone rolls their eyes at you and makes fun of you for being a major bummer. Or thinks you have no sense of humor. Because in your own family, in cleaning up our own root system, that’s where it starts. 

The Body Series :: On Weight and Body Image

I lay in a twin bed surrounded by pastel pink, now darkened by the night. A dim glow seeps in through my curtains. In my head, I say a little prayer, still Catholic in convictions. I pray for my family and friends and for peace in the world. I wish for slim thighs and a flat stomach. I wish for a narrow rib cage and longer legs and for the pudge beside my armpit to disappear. I am seven.

 My precious upper arm pudge &lt;3

My precious upper arm pudge <3

Growing up in Miami, I have realized is not the healthiest place for a young girl. Many places make it difficult to fall in love with yourself. There really is no haven from the parade of images of Photoshopped “perfection,” but, in Miami, you even see it IRL. On the beach, at restaurants, fake tans, hair, breasts, noses, asses. Bodies molded by starvation and an exercise regimen that would make earning a living impossible. This is what you saw and what you knew, so you believed this is what you’re supposed to look like. Having a gorgeous mother who easily slides into a size 0 or 2 and DID wake up like this #flawless didn’t help either. By the time I hit puberty I could fit into her clothes, but once my breasts and ass and thighs really grew in, I could only squeeze into a few pieces.

In 2nd grade, I started ballet lessons because I was apparently too fat for gymnastics. Yes, an 8 year old me was told she needed to be thinner in order to roll around and bounce on a trampoline. And so, I got my leotard and tights and learned how to wrap my hair in a perfect slicked back bun. I learned how to pirouette and apply makeup for recitals and competitions. And the the promise always lingered, doing ballet will make you thinner, which is what we were all striving to be.

 The strategically slimming lean.. ugh I wish I could tell 14 year old me that she is allowed to take up space!!!!

The strategically slimming lean.. ugh I wish I could tell 14 year old me that she is allowed to take up space!!!!

I look back at photos of myself and can’t believe how much bigger I felt back then. How much I felt I wasn't allowed to be bigger. It isn’t until you learn to love yourself that the effects body dysmorphia become clear. I knew what it was, of course. By the time I was in middle school, I co-wrote a “Stations of the Cross” play (hey Catholic school) where I played someone with body dysmorphia, having the “devil” character come in and show what my character saw in the mirror. You see, I thought because I liked myself a little, that it was just a little more weight I constantly wanted to lose, a little bit of myself that I wanted to disappear, that it wasn’t a problem. The character would pass out from working out too hard. I didn't. I was healthy. I didn’t starve myself. Not yet.

I had a tendency to show a lot of mid riff, despite how self conscious I felt about my stomach. Once, at my uncle’s house, he pinched the space between my belly button and the band of my jeans and said “if you can pinch an inch…” I’m not sure if he finished the sentence. Those are the only words I can still hear in my head, but the meaning is implied. “If you can pinch an inch of belly fat, there is too much of you.” And this message came from everywhere. From my stick thin friends who pinched themselves in despair, wishing for more bone and less meat. That scene from Mean Girls where everyone is hating on bits of their own body, that is hilarious because it's so true. Because it's so sad. 

Once the message was clear, I learned how to monitor my eating. This was especially difficult for a young Latina child growing up with a grandmother who wouldn't let you leave the table until you've cleared your plate and down your glass of milk and your dessert. Leaving any food behind was a crime, a travesty, a sin. But I had to rise above that Catholic guilt to be "skinny" right? I tried less carbs. I remember for a while in high school, I would just crush chick peas, drizzle olive oil on them and scoop it up with some vegetables. I thought that was healthy. When I rowed crew and had to stay under 130 lbs to compete in the Lightweight 8, an excusable cycle of starving and binging began because I “had to.”

 "Tankinis" and shorts were my favorite way to hide.

"Tankinis" and shorts were my favorite way to hide.

And then there were the insane diets. The Master Cleanse, where you drink only lemon, maple syrup and cayenne pepper in water. That lasted 2 days. My mother made me eat a baguette when I started going delirious on second night. This insane thing where you inject yourself with pregnancy hormones and eat only 500 calories per day. I don’t remember the name, but dear god, how did I think that was a good idea. After about a week of that, I caved into a box of Krispy Kreme donuts.

I thought because they were few and far between, it was ok. And to be honest, I'm one of the best case scenarios. I never questioned my self- esteem because at least I stopped openly stating "I'm so fat," like it was the worst thing you could be. At least, I didn't have a "real" eating disorder. By comparison, I was the model of health. But of course, it's never really about the weight or the food. When you have low self-esteem, that becomes the easy focal point. At least that's something people have "tips and tricks" to work with. And what came first? The issues with body image and eating or low self-esteem? Or did they swirl inside your psyche, manifesting almost simultaneously enabled by an environment of other contributing factors? 

Like many young people, I couldn't function without external validation, and measuring my worth through numbers on a scale and pant sizes became an easy game. Always trying to drive them down. This story isn’t new. This story is so unbelievably common, the sheer magnitude is the depressing part. This struggle doesn’t make me special. It makes me just like everyone else.

This is the story of how girls learn how to diminish themselves, and in turn, are told they are not worth taking up space. I look back at photos and I see the girl compressing herself, forcing wide hips to conform to the restrictions of a size 4, when she sits on a spectrum of 6-8. (Size 6 was the largest she felt allowed to be because Julia Roberts said she was a size 6 in a movie and she’s taller than me so how dare I be wider.)

But I am not your 00. These hips cannot be contained by designer jeans bought at stores where they scoff at your size. These breasts weren't meant to feel constrained by your too small button ups, or be pushed up by your bras. My thighs will not be shamed by pants that are too tight and too long. I don’t wear knee high boots anymore, because my calves are tired of your narrow bullshit. The rolls on my stomach are not forbidden folds I hold my breath to avoid. Sitting straight up or laying back to prevent the flesh from touching. 

 Blurry because I'm having to much fun dancing and jiggling!

Blurry because I'm having to much fun dancing and jiggling!

Last week, as I prepped for an audition, dancing about in my backless sports bra top and Lumpy Space Princess boy shorts, I filmed myself in the mirror. As I looked at my body, I thought so sincerely, “god damn you are perfect.” This feeling is new and it is incredible. I remember the girl who hated her thighs because at the top they become extra wide and soft. I look at them now and can’t imagine what it would be like to want so deeply to slice into. My belly, too, has a certain softness to it. I no longer cringe at the inch I can pinch. I play with it. My lovers have always liked my softness and, now, so do I.

I wanted to be hard for so long. Ripped and resilient. With lean muscles and an iron will. I wanted to stop crying all the damn time, but now I like the soft parts. The parts of me that receive and feel. I’m a Pisces Moon, baby, and these waters run deep.

Because of course, it was never really about my body and what I put into it. It was the impossible hope, that a certain shape or size would fill an empty space inside of me. “When I get back down to 120 lbs, I’ll be happy.” I wish I could tell teenage Alessandra it is unlikely she will ever dip below 130 lbs again, and that it’s beautiful up here.

I don't know when exactly it happened. When I started to really love my body and not only my body, but the shapes of all the people around me. When "fat" stopped being a bad word. I'm still figuring it out, because on one level, I never saw other people's bodies the way I saw mine, but on the other, there was always that thin layer of judgement. The "you know who got fat" and all the other whispers of judgement. I am not proud of this part of myself. The part of me that saw the world through the lens of the overculture. But in admitting to you this was once a part of me and that every day I choose to let those glasses go, I hope you can let yours go, too.

I don't know exactly when it happened, but I know that the irony of all this, is that the first shift came when I tried yet another diet. I started The Paleo Diet as part of an online New Years fitness challenge and leaned up pretty quickly. It didn't last. I missed the flexibility of eating out and, it's expensive to eat that well all the time. However, it was my first taste of eating food as fuel. Of noticing what felt really good in my body. What gave me more energy.

I don't know exactly when it happened, but I know that therapy helped. I know that meditation and yoga helped. I relearned how to live inside my body. How to listen. I have no doubt that learning to feel my anxiety instead of shutting it down, has allowed me to better listen to my body's signals for hunger and satisfaction. I say no to dessert, when I genuinely don't want or need it, not because of some overlying guilt. And even that we put pressure on. "Come on, don't you want to try it?" Why do we bully each other into eating and not eating? 

I don't know exactly when it happened, but I know that when I focused on becoming a better person, something shifted. When tarot and yoga became daily practices, when I realized there are things bigger than me, it all became a little easier. The weight and the inches seemed to find a natural resting place without me even noticing. And I don't know if I'm actually a different size or if finding way to feel good inside your body just make you feel like the right size. I breath and I move and I listen to the vessel I live inside. I see the magic of this flesh that tells me quite clearly when it wants meat or vegetables or starch. When it needs food or feels perfectly satisfied thank you very much. And non of it is an emergency anymore. Food has finally become fuel instead of a coping mechanism. (Except sometimes your soul craves ice cream and that calling is sacred <3)

I look at this body. In the mirror. Photographed. Recorded. I feel it beneath my fingers. Curl up into it. Twist and stretch it out. And I wonder how could I have hated you so much. Could have resented the fat cells adorning my thighs and glazing my stomach. And I know it is a privilege to work through that sense of projection looking the way I do. Because the only stigmas I’ve had to face are the ones I’ve created. I am not model or Hollywood skinny, but I am thin enough. And that in itself is a separate problem. That we have come so far, but still have such a ways to go in seeing the beauty of all bodies.

And as I've spilled so much, I feel like I've only scratched the surface. I hope to continue this conversation with you over the coming months exploring so much more of our bodies and our depth.

:: The Body Series :: An Introduction

After a long hiatus, I am back on this page with new words and a little more purpose. I find I often lack the space to explore things as deeply as I would like to. Or when I attempt to create it, I get scared of the places my writing takes me, and become resistant or hesitant to share it. How much is too much? What parts are just for me? I am still figuring that out, but in the mean time, there are things to share.

Over the next nine weeks, on this blog, I will be sharing what I will call, The Body Series. Every week I’ll talk about my process of discovery and acceptance with one aspect of my body or another. They are outlined below. I share this to connect with you. Because I ask you to trust me with your process. I want to be worthy of that trust. I want to show you where I’ve been and where I’m at. To let you know where you are is perfect because the spiral never ends. Life is a video game with endless code. There are more levels to unlock and side quests to master than we can even imagine. I have learned so much, but there is so much left to uncover. Sometimes that feels exciting. Sometimes it makes me want to crawl into a cardboard box and cry. All I can try to do is be here. Feel it. I hope you will, too.

Part of me wonders if these tales have been over played. If there are too many voices with the same stories. But if my stories add one more layer of nuance, that resonates with you in a new way, this will be worth it. And besides, I think it's kind of beautiful that so many of us are opening up and sharing the weird shit we've realized is really toxic behavior that we once thought was normal. Keep sharing. Write on. 

  This is a woman who used to be terrified of being caught with the folds of her skin touching. We'll go into it with a little more context next week, my loves.

This is a woman who used to be terrified of being caught with the folds of her skin touching. We'll go into it with a little more context next week, my loves.

2/19 On Weight + Body Image

2/26 Skin: On Blemishes + Color

3/5 Hair: On Growth + Removal

3/12 On Faces + Symmetry

3/19 On Exercise + Ability

3/26 On Periods + Power

4/2 On Sex + Pleasure

4/9 On Intimacy + Sharing

4/16 On Psychosomatic Connection

The Mirror, The Tool, The Gift of Tarot: The reason we study and practice

People often ask me how I got into tarot. Not a surprising ask as only 3 years ago I was metaphorically crushing it, one would say, as far as career and finances go. I was on a path of sorts, something palatable and easy and acceptable. I had a great stable job as a recruiter and a range of hobbies. From yoga, bootcamp and spinning to piano, voice and eventually improv plus the occasional Tinder or OK Cupid date, Happy Hour or warehouse party. I was always doing something. Always laughing or working or grinding or getting shit done.

I was also struggling with anxiety and depression that no volume of “fun" to fill the spaces could seem to get rid of. I exercised, I ate well, I was in therapy. I did all the things you’re supposed to do, but none of the help I was getting provided the relief I so desperately craved. This lead to many Saturday mornings laying in bed, staring out the window wondering what the point of it all was. Why even bother?

Then, one day as I laid on the floor, groaning behind the reception desk, a weekly occurrence for me then, the beautiful Whitney Diamond suggested I get a tarot reading with her friend, Bakara Wintner. “You will love her,” she said. Decidedly cynical, but desperate for anything to make me feel better (or at lease feel different), I said “sure… whatever” and booked an appointment.

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As she pulled cards and explained their meaning and how they translate to my own life experiences, I feel a pull and a connection to the imagery, to the symbolism, to the parallels of the collective. I felt I had a new sort of permission. Permission to trust myself. To believe myself. To reject the stories and rules that were provided to me without rhyme or reason. Permission to write the laws of my own life. My own code for navigating love and family and fulfillment and sex and friendship and ethics and ambition and work.

Soon thereafter, I reached out to Lindsay Mack and began a deep dive into the history, symbolism and meaning of tarot, my own intuition, and my Self. And now, I humbly offer you an opportunity to explore this beautiful tool in a collaborative environment of fiery, creative and curious individuals through the power of myths, folklore, popular culture and our own stories. The Fool, The Lover, Death, The Tower, these are all stepping stones in our universal journey, whether you're Harry Potter, Cinderella, Wonder Woman or Hercules, our cycles of healing and evolution all stop in the same places. I offer you a safe space to explore the cards and explore your Self over the next 12 weeks

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Sometimes I get a little heavy on the scholarly side of things and doubt the magic of the cards. I recognize the usefulness of the images, but forget that something deeper seems to always call forth the necessary symbols. The cards swiftly slap me in the face every time I fall into this trap. Last week, I sat down to check in with the full moon energy and sit in ritual. I shuffled. I cleansed. I meditated. I breathed. I sat tall and felt my deck in my hand, I asked my questions and expected my brain to start piecing archetypal imagery together to make up some sort of correlation which is what happens when I approach my deck from my left brain (Ravenclaw rising, what can I say). But from the first pull, confirmations and feelings and information flooded me without giving me a chance to “think” through it and I was in tears.

The mirror of tarot is no joke. A reader does not carry secret wisdom. The wisdom is inside us all. I don’t have the answers. I just listen to the possibilities and open myself to lessons and truths embedded in these 78 images with foundations in an ancient oral tradition and parallels in Jungian archetypes, the Chakras of Hinduism, the Tree of Life of Kaballah, and so many belief systems and philosophies that have all strived to answer questions of universal truth. Who are we? What are we here for? Why do we feel the things we do? What is this eternal longing? How do we cycle through these ego journeys more gracefully? How do we come to terms with our mortality?

A reading does not always feel as serious or deep as all that. Maybe you just want to pull a card for inspiration. Maybe you’re curious about how to approach a new person or opportunity. But deep below the surface, lives the seed of these bigger picture questions. And maybe sometimes words aren’t enough. Maybe articulating these feelings feels too limiting. That is why we have images and symbols to guide us. To inspire us. To hold a mirror to the shadows and the lights of inner selves. 

And so I invite you to dive in with me, to explore the tarot, and in turn, yourself.

Note: Email me with any questions about registering or for a payment plan.

A Treatise on Self-Love, Self-Touch and the Alchemy of Sex Magic

I wrote this for myself, but after reading it over, I realized it was for you, too. Consider this a love letter to your body as well as my own. May you find comfort and love and sensuality here.

Feel the intimate grooves of your skin. Linger over your succulent, smooth, bumpy, hairy, soft, tender, muscular thighs. Feel the bones beneath the softer edges of you. Trace the dimples, the stripes, the battle scars, the growing pains. 

Play with the floppy parts of yourself. Tease and play and pinch. Remind yourself that these parts serve as stores of energy. Remember they keep you vibrant and active. Remember the flesh encased inside skin is your vessel, your capsule, your spaceship. There are knobs and switches to turn you on and rev the engine. 

Stroke the nape of your neck, the lobes of your ear, the inner creases of your elbow and knees. Find the spots that make you tingle, that light up your nervous system like a Christmas tree. That reflect your sparkles like a chandelier. 

Stroke, touch and play with the intimate space between your legs, whatever parts you may hold there. Lose yourself in the rolling waves your own touch activates like the pool in Typhoon Lagoon. Invite the assistance of toys and liquids and lovers, but remember to get to know yourself first. Find the hidden corners of the cavern that ignite fireworks. Find the rhythm that rewires your circuitry. 

Cultivate so much intimacy with yourself, so much pleasure that you become weak enough to feel the first flickers of acceptance. Make yourself come so hard you forget to suck in your belly. You forget about the skin beneath your chin and how it must look to someone else in this moment. Set an intention in your climax. Let it be your own. Let it be selfish. Hoard your sexuality until it feels good to share it. Until you find someone worthy of the gift of you.

Find new names when the old ones make you feel constrained by dirty connotations, and the judgement of men in robes that commit dirty deeds and wear masks of stern injustice to hide their shame. The words of women who were taught to hate themselves and the most natural parts of their bodies. Rename those parts. Reclaim them. 

In my right thigh lives an indent that emerges larger than the rest, peaking out from the folds when I sit. Cellulite they call it. Such a clinical and cold term. The word does not radiate the strength and power mixed with pillow like softness and carnal warmth and fire. My thighs contain entropy and warrior-like ferocity. They are tree trunks that keep me tethered. They are the thighs of strong women from Caribbean Islands and Iberian coastlines and Mediterranean beaches. The thighs of priestesses and mothers and crones and witches. The thighs of chiefs and leaders and above all of lovers wrapped tight in ribbons of limbs seamlessly spiraling though silk. 

My breasts don’t sag, they droop with the weight of the galaxies I hold in my heart. They wax and wane with the moon. They are striped like tigers and zebras, branded by burden of growing too quickly, but stronger for it. Womanly, not because of their size, but for what they feel and endure. 

Refuse to stand for the judgement and name calling that initiated the self hate in the first place. That made these words ring like the shrieks of banshees or stab like rusty knives. Instead, become the siren that lures and drowns that vitriol in the depths of your waters.

Surround yourself with people that make you feel beautiful. Who look for you like sunflowers searching for brilliant rays and shine their own beauty right back. Construct bridges and hammocks and cocoons and pillow forts out of each other so there is always a place to cross and hang and nestle and play. 

Feel the overwhelming disappointment and sadness that accompanies living so that you can build yourself up again, like your favorite Lego set. Find pleasure in the rebuilding. Find the places you can fortify. Forgive the weak points. Build turrets for sentries, but leave the draw bridge open.

Love. Hate. Laugh. Cry. Embrace every extreme like the ocean that your are. Let the waves keep you in motion, but always return to your Self.

On Receptivity: Or, YOU NEED TO RELAX OKAY

We need to learn how to receive. How to relax. How to let go. 

If you’re thinking, Alessandra, I know how to relax, I am so chill, I would like you to try this. The next time you are laying in bed, ready to go to sleep, can you pay attention to your body and notice how much you are actually gripping? Your shoulders, your hands, the corners of your eyes, your jaw, your feet. How many neurons are still firing? How much tension is left inside your muscle fibers as you attempt to ease into your pillow? How safe do you feel in your own bed? How much do you trust your mattress, the ground, the grass, the earth to support you?

Receiving is uncomfortable. Whether it's a compliment, a gift, a hug, a blessing, how often do we respond with, "oh no, I couldn't possibly" or "you should't have" or “no thanks, I got it”? How often do we feel unworthy of receiving?

It's totally bonkers, right? We've become so conditioned to fiercely value the independent and self-made. Those who don't need anyone but themselves. Those who grind themselves to the bone unassisted to get things done. That's the image we get, but how do we get through the quiet moments without a partner, a tribe, a community? Not to turn this into a critique of late capitalism (jk I'm always looking to critique late capitalism), but look at the ads and messages we constantly receive! Don’t sleep, eat or see your children. Just do, make, create. Hyper masculine,* Hyper sun. Hyper ha. Hyper yang. If we don’t supplement that with equal parts nurturing, feminine,* moon, tha, yin, we fall apart. We need both sides. We need the cycle, the compliments the whole.

What I mean is, unclench. What I mean is, let go. What I mean is do nothing, which is not as simple as it sounds. What I mean is find the worth in your Self. Separate from your looks. Separate from your achievements. Separate from the gold stars and trophies and promotions. Separate from your bank account, assets, titles, accolades. Separate from the parts we cling to for validation. 

There is a lot of trendy talk about “self-care.” This is definitely what I am advocating for, but there are specific distinctions I want to make. Self care is something you do for your Self. For your own body. Paying attention to the details of your being and what you need. Paying someone else to massage or manicure you is not self care. Massaging your own legs and discovering the grooves of your muscles is self care. However, allowing yourself to fully receive a massage from someone else is an act of receptivity. There are so many differentiations and overlap. Can we play with and enjoy both?

Masturbating is self care. And I don’t mean mindlessly fumbling about, staring at a screen, or turning on a vibrator. I mean feeling each and every touch. When was the last time you allowed yourself to receive an orgasm? The last time you relaxed into waves of ecstasy instead of pushing and forcing your way to a climax that remains just out of reach? 

Eating is self care. When was the last time you allowed food to nourish you instead of shoveling it into your mouth between meetings? The last time you felt how your lunch made you feel?

When was the last time you felt the effects of your cocktail? Let it swim through you between tastes instead of slipping it like an oral fixation between awkward sentences and boring small talk?

And even when we start to pay attention, are we staying in the moments as we inhabit them? When you’re in the bathtub, are you allowing yourself to float freely, feel the warmth of the water soothe you? Or are we running through our wants and needs and desires and to do lists like never ending scrolls on Tumblr. Our brain is like a website, if we keep scrolling down and loading more content, we will crash. There is a limit to how much we can hold. Can we hit the pause button in earnest?

These are my observations and confessions. No one can house a double cheeseburger from Shake Shack faster than me, but I’m trying to slow down. To savor. To receive. It's as if effort to unclench has become more difficult than maintaining the strain of tension, and that's where the work comes in. It's like using pliers to open up and detach the pieces that cling together in an act of protection. I invite you to submit.

Yoga, therapy, acupuncture, massage, tarot, writing, improv. These are not all the tools, but these are the ones I have found the most helpful. To help me connect, receive, open. It’s not flicking a light switch. It’s years of practice. Of loving it and hating it. It’s hard. But I'm slowly learning to relax. And receive. And listen.

 The Empress and The Queen of Coins from The Fountain Tarot

The Empress and The Queen of Coins from The Fountain Tarot

The Empress welcomes us to receive. To use our power to effortlessly attract what we want. Can we trust her? Can we trust each other? Can we loosen the focus of our structures and let our desires manifest effortlessly? Not by shoving the puzzle pieces into place, but by allowing yourself to find the right pieces as they come to you?

I’ve asked a lot of questions. Feel free to sit with them before you answer them for yourself, and, as always, I’m here to listen, share, discuss. 

 

 

*Reminder that when I say masculine and feminine I don’t mean male and female. You may prefer sun and moon, ha and tha, or yin and yang to describe the same thing,  but I find masc and femme to be helpful qualifiers, especially in the context of tarot.

On Intuition: An Awakening (or how I learned that anxiety is not a weakness)

Living inside your body is hard. If you’re prone to anxiety or any other kinds of hyper awareness and discomfort, you could develop pretty harmful habits just to survive. It may feel like this supreme weakness. Why do I feel this unbearable jolt of electricity when I hear the phone ring? Why do I jump to 1,000 horrible outcomes before anything even happens? Why is my brain broken?

Well, this kind of hyper awareness kept our ancestors alive when the dangers were far more threatening than a shitty text or an overbearing boss or client. When that freak out feeling happens, and a bear is attacking, that shot of adrenaline keeps you alive. It's how our ancient counterparts managed to survive, reproduce, and pass on those gene. I repeat: Feeling anxious is how we once survived. In the modern world, however, it’s really freaking inconvenient, definitely, but it’s not weakness. It’s the reason you’re alive at all.

On the days I feel good, I almost feel silly about all my little worries. All the little boxes of doubts and hang ups and years of conditioning that kept me quiet and scared and sad. But on the days I feel bad, it feels like I’m falling down a serrated crack into the center of the earth, into a part of myself that is empty, that is a black hole, that will never end. That feeling, that gripping and tension in every muscle fiber of my body, that’s resistance. That’s the supreme discomfort of not listening to your body. 

When your feelings are routinely dismissed as trivial by parents, teachers, lovers, friends, it’s easy to feel the initial pinprick of a bodily response and say “NO THANK YOU.” But that never works. That leads to built up tension. Shoulders that hike up to your earlobes. Lower back pain. Knots in your calves. Tendonitis. Tension headaches. Yup, all that repression has to go somewhere, and that somewhere is definitely inside your body. Yikes. 

 The High Priestess and The Queen of Cups ask us to listen deeply in The Fountain Tarot.

The High Priestess and The Queen of Cups ask us to listen deeply in The Fountain Tarot.

What does all this have to do with intuition? Well, in being so uncomfortable and therefore disconnected from our bodies, we lose that guiding compass that lives inside us. If you hate the feelings within your body, it becomes easier and easier to dismiss it completely. Have you felt yourself shut down, block out everything around you, feelings, sensations, words? Like viewing the world through a fishbowl lens, looking down on yourself as if you were a hovering spectre, or as Get Out so succinctly put it, from the “sunken place”? 

I have found that the times I feel the most uncomfortable, the times I could really use a drink or a pint of ice cream or whatever substance is your go to (this includes sugar and TV), those are the times my body has been begging me to pay more attention. To stop masking these feelings with rolls of duct tape like the pacifier I clung to as a child until my mother told me the pacifier factory burnt down all mine melted int he dishwasher to wean me off. Sometimes our internal mother needs to step in and say, “no, now you listen.”

Often when a client asks me a question, they are either asking the wrong question or they already know the answer. It’s just hidden behind other messages. Messages from society, our upbringing, the many faced internal selves who have their own ideas of what good and healthy look like. Today we are so over stimulated. So burnt out. Constantly connected. Constantly on overdrive. Maybe the remedy isn’t more of something, something new, something better, upgrade 3.7. Maybe we need less. Less noise, less notifications, less busy-ness, less metrics. Maybe we can ditch the Fitbit and listen to what our bodies are saying. 

Logan: Consequences, Relevance, and Visibility

***SPOILERS BELOW***

  20th Century Fox / Marvel

20th Century Fox / Marvel

If you are reading this, I am assuming you have seen the new X-Men / Wolverine installment, Logan, The first “superhero movie” that is actually a fine crafted piece of cinema. I loved this film. I cried many times throughout it. I am not interested in “reviewing” this film, but I have a few points I am interested in exploring. 

Realism and Violence

I am not typically a fan of hyper HD. It takes me out of the world and makes me feel disoriented and weird because it’s usually presented more to show off technology than in the actual storytelling process. In Logan, however, the super HD (I know there is a new name for the next level one, but I don’t really care) articulates details of the story. You can see the lines on Logan’s face. The veins, the scars, the cuts, the discoloration that comes with age. Every wrinkle, every gnarled knot of scar tissue serves to present this latest version of a well known character. Every sag of once taut skin reveals the deteriorating cells of a once immaculately regenerative body.

This also makes the intense gore that much sharper. This is a world with consequences. There is no Bobby Drake skating around making snowballs, we have Delilah freezing a Reaver’s arm and smashing it to break his hold on her. It feels very much like the evolution of the genre. It’s not Frank Miller’s dark noire aesthetic. It’s the horrify reality of what manifesting mutant powers would mean to the bodies surrounding the superpowered (like the slashing of Logan and Laura or the insane twig explosion. What the hell WAS that?) within a Western structure. Furthermore, the horror of what an aging Professor X looks like and is capable of, coupled with the pain of accidentally killing his beloved students, presents an anguish that Patrick Stewart executes to heartbreaking effect.

The Nameless Women of Mexico

In this iteration Laura / X-23 and the other mutant children, were carried to term by Mexican women, the only evidence of whom is a series of bloody hospital sheets. It's a sharp imagine of visible invisibility, acknowledgement of existence, while still remaining off camera. The violent manipulation of female bodies as a method of breeding soldiers (or laborers in a capitalist society during times of peace) is a tale as old as the patriarchy. The violation and disposal of Mexican women, however, specifically reminds me of a harrowing essay by Miriam Zoila Pérez, “When Sexual Autonomy Isn’t Enough: Sexual Violence Against Immigrant Women in the United States.” In it she explains the explicit danger Mexican women face when crossing the border (from repeated rape to torture to death) as well as within the U.S. and the heightened danger of being a female immigrant without documentation and the sexual exploitation that often accompanies that status. 

From the sea of blood and government sanctioned invasion, rises Gabriella, a Mexican nurse who provides the only documentation of Transigen's cloning operation, acts as Laura’s surrogate mother, and helps many of the children escape the hospital. I hate that she is killed. I hate that these are the only adult women in this story (besides one other brave woman of color who is also brutally murdered EDIT: I just realized every adult character dies, but still). I understand this is a specific story, and a very well told one, I just need more adult women being seen and heard, you know? I only hope the memory of those bloody hospital beds sticks in people’s memories the next time someone chants about building walls or votes against defunding international women’s organizations. (EDIT: Literally no one is talking about this in all the reviews and analysis and it is blowing my mind and maybe proving my point about visible invisibility.)

Child Refugees versus the Military-Industrial Complex

The climax of this film shows a bunch of Latinx kids (along with their trusty Canadian friend / paternal figure / personal hero / did you see Bobby with his vintage Wolverine toy??) taking down a corrupt body policing biotech military group on their way to freedom and a hug from Justin Trudeau. The refugee children that were created by the big bad corporation have to destroy them on their way to freedom. This also opens the door to a new generation of super diverse mutants. The sacrifice of mothers often paves the way for the next wave of growth and progress.

I love this, but the politics of this world are complex. Mutants have been all but wiped out. Charles has accidentally killed X-men and civilians. X-genes have been sampled and used in attempts to weaponize children and manipulate female bodies. Are mutants too dangerous to take care of themselves? What happens when mutants age? How does the X-gene evolve and affect the deterioration of cells? Which X-men did Charles kill? AND WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED TO ERIK??

On a serious note, there are real children who are actually displaced out there. Children who have done nothing wrong, but have had the bad luck of being born in a place where conflict is happening. Conflict that our government has had a large hand in (and both parties are guilty of waging it). I won't belabor the point, but I hope this helps open the dialogue for folks who didn't quite have an entry point. Basically, I hope the magic of comic book characters can break through some cognitive dissonance.

Things I Found Delightful

Laura yelling in Spanish and punching Logan in the face

Shane (1953) and the eulogy

Laura turning the cross into an X

Bobby and his Wolverine action figure

The blue tinted shot of Charles in the big metal thing with light holes

Caliban's last stand

Caliban's desert outfit

Charles' final speech to not Logan

Everything about the Munson's except when they die

Laura's unicorn shirt

Everything about this version of Charles Xavier

"So this is what it feels like... Don't be what they made you."

And "Daddy"