An illustration based on Mumbai
Today, photos from Crystal Renn’s latest photo shoot hit the internet. The December addition of Harper’s Bazaar presented a slightly svelter version of Crystal Renn since her last photo shoot in Paris Vogue with Terry Richardson. Of course, given her advocacy for plus sized models and her novel “Hungry” about her acceptance of her curves…her recent conspicuous weight loss is coming under harsh criticism. Renn has been hard-pressed to provide the quantification of her weight loss…although she publicly has said that she has gone from a size 12 to a size 8/10. I’m not sure where I stand on this issue. On one hand it was great to see Renn compete with “straight” size models and completely rock it.
But, conversely it is tough to see a woman who fought to get work in the modeling world suddenly slim down and ostensibly “mainstream”. I find Crystal Renn’s weight loss thought provoking because it makes me wonder about the nature of body self-esteem and weight. Does losing weight mean that you compromise your body self-esteem? In other words…Can you accept and love your body…while losing weight/changing it?
These are Pakistani policewomen. The lady on the right is wearing delicate henna on her hands, and both submissive Muslim women are wearing a girlish lace-trim on their encumbering headscarves.
In a recent ABC 20/20 Special called Albinism: Albinos Caught Between Dark and Light, a girl was highlighted, Angel, whose Albino features have made her the subject of gossip and mocking by her peers. In an effort to reintegrate with people and to become more social she underwent a makeover to “normalize” her appearance. This move, the news article subsists, is somewhat controversial in the albinism community known as “passing”.
Passing is a concept that has permeated throughout the racial cultures in the US, has become relevant in the homosexual culture, and has become part of the Hapa Multiracial debate. Passing as something that you are not…has become a subject for people to quibble over. Are you authentic if you don’t proclaim your “blackness”, “homosexuality”, and/or “gendered-ness” ?
In Brooke Kroeger’s book Passing she describes the condition as “when people can’t be who they are”. This statement is key. Passing occurs whenever a person can not express who they really are. In this way, Passing encompasses an inner struggle to become one’s true self. Counter, to a racial historical perspective on passing which characterizes “passing” as a deliberate attempt to defraud and beguile others…while protecting an inner secret less desirable identity. The first definition highlights the inner struggle to become a whole person in the eyes of those that would castigate and condemn that identity.
While Angel is “passing” away from a socially undesirable (or perhaps socially uncomfortable) condition of her albinism…she is transitioning to her fullest self. I do not believe this takes away her consciousness of her albinism or her past experiences based on her condition. I believe that her “passing” allows her to be herself.
Passing, intentional or unintentional, is a web easy to be caught in. For myself, unintentional passing is a day-to-day phenomenon. Instead of concentrating on who I am…and the development of my identity I am constantly bombarded by people who think they know who I am. To some, I am Mexican, Indian, Middle Eastern, Black, Hawaiian, Native American, Cuban. Amongst all ethnicities and nationalities I remain a puzzle—which must be figured out.
For me, unintentional passing creates a paranoia that my “cultural-ized” comments and ideas are seen by others as inappropriate or racist. This is a horrible game—which constantly makes me afraid of how people will interpret my action and my thoughts.
Thus, my passing exists every day in every minute. But, passing also represents an opportunity. Passing makes my identity fluid-constantly shifting like a self-aware thing. Passing allows me to continually reinvent myself.
To me, passing creates a conduit to self-realization. Who cares if a person intentionally or unintentionally misrepresents themselves…in the pursuit of their true racial, gender, or culturally identity?
At roughly 4am twice a week, a deeply disturbed individual hops the fence from the street into the parking lot attached to my apartment building. Like most people who enter illegally he is after South Central Gold…plastic bottles and aluminum cans. What sets this man apart is his maniac loud ranting to himself. Alternating from “FUCK YOU MOTHER FUCKER” and an endless string of “FUCK FUCK FUCK” the man perched in the dumpster waged an epic psychological battle against himself.
Approximately, 20-25% of the single adult homeless population suffers from some form of severe and persistent mental illness (National Resource and Training Center on Homelessness and Mental Illness, 2003). I believe him to be among this many. And as I peered outside through the slates of my blinds as this man proceeded to mine…I wondered what was the best way to handle the situation. Of course, I could call the police as he was obviously and almost manically disturbing the “peace”. But, I wondered “Is this the best option?” Although loud and bombastic, this individual wasn’t harming anyone…but himself. The violence that he displayed in the pitch, tone, the general sharpness in the way he cursed himself with such disdain…prevented me from doing anything other than laying back down and listening.
As I continued to hear his litany punctuatated by the sounds of bouncing beer cans and dasani water bottles. I found myself horribly and inexorably led back to the common mythologies about homelessness.
Did he choose to live a life “off the grid”? Is this a chosen life? Perhaps he is unhelpable?
But, even as these thoughts chase around my mind I remember the privilege some have…that I have…to mental health treatment. It is projected that those who receive comprehensive community mental health treatment and stay in treatment, remain safely housed, will have an incarceration and homeless rate of less than 2% (CalPsych).
Adding another layer, African-Americans make up 50% of the homeless population (Institute for the Study of Homelessness & Poverty at the Weingart Center). My dumpster man was indeed African-American. Reading that statistic and most of the statistics I’ve included in this post…makes me ashamed that I feel so caught in a web of indifference, futility, and utter inability to connect with an “undesirable”. Yes, I know he could have been dangerous…to himself and others…But, I just wish that my first sensation of distaste could have been tempered with initial humility to his obvious anguish and tribulations.