Smart Girls Don’t Wear Makeup

The other day I wrote an (see here) article about being a ‘good girl’ and alluded to the notion that to be deemed such, you also have to fulfill a primary defining factor: you have to be smart. Scratch that, you have to strive to appear smart and NOTHING ELSE.

The qualification is do well in school, get teacher’s approval and therefore your parents’ approval too. That cheap gold sticker next to your name on the board is all you (are supposed to) ever want.

Straight As defines you. Straight As makes you a ‘good girl’. Smart, good girls do not wear makeup, or so I was taught.

It didn’t help that I was part of a program for gifted children which meant that I was involved in a culture of academic snobbery even in high school.

Again, I was also taught that smart girls do not pay attention to feminine vanities like worrying about the outfits you wear, your make up or your hair. If I wanted to fit in with the other smart girls, I needed to follow suit.

It was unfortunate, to say the least, because I adopted a mindset – along with many of my peers, I dare say – that envisioned us (those in the program) as superior and anyone else (those not in the program) as utterly inferior in every way.

Of course all of this was compounded by certain feminist ideologies that also informed my thinking – I thought true feminists were only those who burned their bras and refused to worry about what Chanel had in store for its next season because such things are frivolous.

In any case, by the time I was 19 my identity was very much that of the feminist Straight A student and over achiever who shunned everything and anything that didn’t fall under that which identifies you as a smart girl (and therefore a good girl) because somehow, in my naivety, I had lumped being a prejudiced asshole/academic snob with being better. Make up is a social construction! Oh and you suck for following, by the way.

What a terrible way to think and see the world!  How stupidly black and white, how prejudiced and exclusionary and mean!

To be honest, I didn’t really think that way entirely.  Secretly, I liked playing with lipstick and curling my hair. Secretly, I was obsessed with shoes.

But I was a part of a specific culture and I couldn’t express this! Not if I wanted to still be known as a feminist and not if I wanted to be taken seriously. I didn’t want to be shamed – worst yet shamed by really smart women – that I was being silly for enjoying these things.

My OOTD blog therefore started out as a bit of a guilty pleasure: me exploring my own style and self in a safe zone – that is without the judgement of my friends and peers.

When I went on to academia, I still carried with me the inhibition of being someone who truly enjoyed fashion and yet also wanted to be taken seriously as a scholar. For quite some time I felt my identity was fractured and torn: Jenny, the fashionista NO – Jenny, the feminist and academic.

And then at one point I was just like, who the fuck cares what they think? Why can’t I be both?

Why can’t I be a smart and high achieving woman but also a fashion lover? I can still be a proud feminist and wear my god damned lipstick.

I can do and I can be anything I want to be.

So I learned to stop letting what others think of me bother me when it came to my taste in fashion as well as my taste in books. I have finally found myself and believe in the beauty of uplifting others, not tearing them down.

And I hope that many other young girls out there take this message to heart. You should take pleasure in the things that you like, regardless of what it is, and do not let anybody tell you otherwise. Don’t apologise.

You are all things awesome: smart, funny, fashionable, sporty, a scientist – you name it! I think it’s high time we help push each other up and forward, not bring each other down.

Depression and its Pains

In the wake of the death of one of the greatest comics of our time, the world has responded with utmost grief and sadness.

Robin Williams’ tragic death by apparent suicide at 63 is a loss to us all.

I say again, never have I been so devastated by the loss of someone I did not know personally but who I nonetheless grew up with. The world mourns his death.

But the backdrop to his death is coloured by the hues of depression and a long battle with alcoholism. It is difficult to have to come to understand that even someone who embodied joy and mirth as Williams did could become lost to depression and ultimately succumb.

It is a subject matter that strikes me quite personally having struggled through my own withdrawal from the world after a great deal of trauma at thirteen, and then again as a young adult and realizing that depression directly affected the lives of so many people that I hold dear to my heart.

Depression is an illness that can end in tragedy and I am lucky to say that all my personal experiences have ended with hope and growth.

But nonetheless, the complicated nature of this illness has prompted many people to react in a flippant manner. ‘Just get over it’ is the usual commentary. What is worse, when and if it ends in suicide people will react with anger, confusion and condemnation that the act is one of selfishness.

I have been on both sides and I as far as I can understand, all such reactions are human. It is difficult to understand why someone could feel so alone that it would lead them to seek death as a last resort to escape pain and loneliness. As a witness to this suffering, it left me feeling hurt as well.

Reactions to William’s death have pushed people to turn to Twitter to express their grief, while others have mentioned that they won’t be able to forgive him.

As bystanders it can be most frustrating to watch someone you love fall victim to depression because you yourself are helpless to help them.

With Robin William’s death, all I can say in true reaction is ‘why?’ in the same way I reacted to others I personally know who have experienced this type of mental illness. Depression is, I think, a complicated and deeply personal illness that is often fought alone. But I hope that other sufferers understand that it is not something you have to face alone.

Unsure of how to end this sad post, I leave you with simply this:

Platinum Edge

 

 

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A peep of midriff is still one of my favourite looks. This dress, from Aritzia (one of their staples) is also so comfortable! Added to that, you can wear it like I am or turn it around to show a peep of bear back. I love versatile outfits!

And for those of you who have been following me for a while you’ll also notice that I am now sporting a not so natural head of hair. I’m loving the new look and now when I wear red lipstick, the whole look is different. I write about the reasons for my little rebellion here: http://bit.ly/1qWzAL8

What Going Blonde Actually Means to Me

A couple of weeks ago I decided to go blonde. Not just a nice sandy shade of blonde the likes of Scarlett Johansson, nor the honeyed blonde locks of Jessica Alba. No I decided to go straight up platinum blonde à la Marilyn Monroe.

Everyone’s been asking me, “why this colour? Why this blonde?” To which I usually answer, “Oh I don’t know, I just really like it. I’ve always wanted to go blonde.” However, I omit the part where I would say “but I just never had the courage.”

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The courage I refer to is really the courage to think independently, make my own decisions and be an individual.

Growing up, time and time again, I was told that obedience, submission and docility are the qualities that define a ‘good girl’. A good girl knows her domestic responsibilities and remembers to fulfill her filial duties. A good girl is a virgin, virtuous and pure. A good girl listens and does what she is told.

So, I listened and I obeyed in hopes of being deemed a ‘good-girl’. I eagerly sought my parents’ approval by obeying every order and every command. Doing well in school was just another opportunity to win approval and be considered a veritable good-girl.

In any case, when mom told me that smart, good-girls don’t wear lipstick and keep their hair their natural colour, I took her word for it. I wore what I was told to wear. I kept my hair the way I was told to keep it. Hell, I didn’t tweeze my eyebrows until I was nearly finished high school.
I took her word so often and so unquestionably I stopped making my own decisions altogether and obeyed quite blindly.

It wasn’t until my trip back home to Vietnam accompanied by my mother that someone pointed out to me that I never make a decision or complete an action without first deferring to my mother to say “Yes, Jenny, you may.”
It was made most clear when a cousin asked if I wanted to go out and grab some American food – a hamburger – since it had been nearly a month since I had any Western cuisine and I was probably craving.

I knew my answer right away: yes, of course I want to come! Let’s go eat some burgers and have some fun – I’m on vacation, after all.

But I didn’t say yes like I wanted to. Instead I looked at my mother again for approval. “Is it okay, mom, for me to have a hamburger?” I was 21.
My cousin and my aunts shook their heads, chuckled and said, “poor Jenny, always afraid of mom.”

What? Afraid of mom? How did I go from an obedient ‘good-girl’ to being one who was fearful of making the wrong decision all the time? Why was I always walking on pins and needles, terrified of displeasing mother? How and when did I stop being an individual?

I started paying more attention to my own actions in relation to my mother’s opinions and I realized that over the years, almost all the opinions I had formed were not my own but belonged to my mother instead (or by extension, the culture that she was steeped in when she grew up and which she taught me too).

Whilst browsing through magazines with my mother I was afraid to disagree with the outfits she chose as beautiful, even though I might have adored them. I did not go out with friends and was not allowed to play with boys since, I was told, hanging out after school and, most especially, hanging out with boys was for ‘bad girls’ only. You don’t want to be a bad girl now, do you, Jenny?

Good girls study hard, good girls don’t drink. Good girls stay at home. Good girls always listen to mom and dad.

And then something happened to me. I grew up.

I started to mature amidst a deluge of problems that flooded my home life and ripped my family apart – divorce. It started during my undergraduate years and well, is still ongoing even now that I’ve finished graduate school.
Throughout the torrential storm, filled with thunderous fights and endless finger pointing at whom to place the blame, I was forced to stand in the middle – made referee to keep the peace, and emotional punching bag all at the same time.

I was asked to side with my mother at times and with my father at others, repeatedly, until I could no longer do it. Until I realised how ridiculous and unreasonable they were. How could I obey when everything requested was utterly unreasonable? How could I take one side and disobey the other?
The storm changed me. I started to question the opinions of the people whom I always looked to to guide my way. They were lost and so I had to find my own way.

As I took up the duty of sheltering my siblings from the trauma, and as I learned to take a step back and focus on my education before the distractions threatened to unearth everything I had worked for, I began to grow into my own person.

One day, as I was being pulled into the center of yet another fight, I said no! After being a ‘good girl’ for all those years I finally refused. I disobeyed.

And it was the most liberating feeling, ever.

In the months to follow, I moved out. A year later, I dyed my hair blonde without asking for my mother’s opinion. Yes, I made the decision all by myself. I was not going to let anyone deter me by telling me that it wouldn’t look good because my skin tone didn’t match.

Going blonde is part of my rebellion. Going blonde, in all its irony, is my assertion that I know how to think all on my own. Going blonde was me coming to an understanding that being a ‘good girl’ is so much more than just obedient, submissive and docile. A good girl thinks for herself.

Pretty Pink Peplum & Lace

 

 

What better to wear to a wedding than something that’s pretty and pink?

This peplum, lace textured dress was my choice for a friend’s beautiful and touching wedding earlier this summer.
I love how feminine it is and the lace detail adds to the delicacy. I went with straightened hair and an interesting necklace to give it a touch of edge because I think balanced looks are best.