Sunday, September 22, 2013

Confessions of an ugly stepsister

On the day of my father's wedding, I was in the hall bathroom, trying - and failing - to get my hair to cooperate.

Recently dyed an amber brown, the color was flattering but the individual strands were staging a revolt in protest.

Still, in my lavender gown and matching jewelry, I felt pretty.

As I continued fighting the battle de tresse, my paternal grandmother came into the bathroom, presumably to oversee the process. Little did I realize, I was about to be waging a war on two fronts.

In retrospect, I feel that my grandmother staged a brilliant maneuver. Having lived with - and braced for - her antics for two decades, I knew to come emotionally armor-clad when visiting with Granny Greer. But on this particular occasion, she caught me unaware.

Brilliant, in a way.

"I want you to make me a promise," she said.

An odd request on any occasion, but infinitely moreso considering the source.

"Um...sure thing, grandma."

To my recollection, this woman had never asked me for a favor before. Not that she was really around often enough to do so. I do not know if my eyebrows raised, but in the mental replay, they most definitely should have.

"I want you to promise me you'll save up money, and, when you have enough, you'll go to the surgeon and get your ears fixed."


When I was a child, before I knew to be self conscious about my hips or breasts or whether or not my stirrup pants made me look fat, I instead fixated on my ears. Lacking cartilage at the top, mis orielles had very early taken on an appearance of what could lovingly be called "elvin," but was more often regarded as ugly.

So I began considering plastic surgery. In elementary school.


As Fate so often does, It orchestrated its own answer to my grandma's behest by queueing my sister to enter the bathroom. Though it was me she was looking for, it was she who filled the silence and space.

Though only in elementary school herself at the time, my sister was already a beauty. Her hair - which should have been disheveled for a girl of her age and activity, was perfectly pinned in a way most becoming to her well-proportioned face. And while I had tried to hide mine behind a half up-do, her ears were on display. Perfectly symmetrical and decorated, as perfect ears should be, with perfect little earrings.

On her, my grandmother's eyes fell approvingly, and, with insight unbecoming a woman at war, I realized that I had never seen Janelle offer that same look of approval to any other young lady.

Yes, it was undeniable in that moment - and in every moment since - that my sister, my darling sister, was and is the beautiful one.

And I am the Ugly Stepsister.


In the dozen plus years that have followed, I have watched from the sidelines as my sister's beauty has won her favor in every circle in which she travels. I have watched the doors open, the heads turn, the favors fall into her perfectly narrow lap.

I've watched her, unaware as a swan to its own superiority, take such gifts in stride. And why shouldn't she? After all, she knows no different.

For while I have watched with envy, she has never known a world in which she was not beautiful. The looks, which would mean the world to so many mes, are but Tuesdays to her. And it isn't her fault.

I have watched how, bewitched by her beauty, some have overlooked her brains. And her kindness.

I have tried to harness these observations as a yolk to master my own insecurities and longings. "Look," I tell myself. "Even beauty has its downside."

Sometimes, I even believe it.

But on mornings when I wake, like I did today, 22 pounds over my ideal weight, and still feeling the sort of ugly that makeup and hair dye can't ever mask, I feel that same, familiar tremor in my heart that always presents itself.

That feeling of low-flying terror that grips me whenever my sister encircles my waist with her slender, perfectly proportioned arms to take a "sisters" photo.

That ceaseless rumbling in the gut that can't be filled with brunch or booze or the knowledge that you have garnered two degrees, have a lovely home, and are working in the industry of your choosing.

It's the sin of the apple. It's knowledge.

It's knowing that you like her better than me. That, by virtue of her genetic makeup, that she exists in a different caste, while I remain an untouchable.

It's knowing that I warrant a stop at a fast food dive while her arrival is met with a steak dinner. It's being granted audience with you in sweatpants at your house, when she is dress slacks and "I'll take you out somewhere."


I love my sister. I love her as you do. I stare in awe, as you do.

I'm proud of her.

But my pride lies not in that she is of my stock.

She is not of my stock.

She is of yours.

And I know I'll never warrant that extra shower. That extra trip. That extra mile.

For I am the Ugly Stepsister.

Even in my own life.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

An epitaph to Harley Quinn

On my best days, I am a miniscule voice of dissent - a tiny, near inconsequential reverberation of noise in the hustle and bustle that comprises the daily, ruckus-filled bric-a-brac of human existence.

Today, I hope, will be one of those best days.

Lately my righteous anger radar has registered a spike in the cosplay sector. Specifically, the double-edged sword that is "women must dress sexily to accurately portray female heroines and yet, in doing so, they objectify themselves and therefore incur scrutiny."

In the scheme of things, it is a minor injustice - a mustard stain on the blood-soaked cloth that is gender inequality - so I've let others spew rhetoric while I've remained silent. I felt it best, as I've had nothing pertinent to add to the conversation.

But today it was brought to my attention that those responsible for the super sexy femme fatales we presently recognize as female superheroes - those giants among men who brought us XX heroines/supervillains Wonder Woman, Catwoman and Black Canary - those self-same promoters of the idea that female sexuality is oxymoronically equal to empowerment and vulnerability, to innocence and guilt... These paragons among men, who package and sell gender and sex stereotypes to our youth of both sexes...have started a contest. A contest to engage the young reader. A contest to elicit his or her creative response. A contest with an unusual call.

A contest to draw a character beloved by many.

Harley Quinn.


Committing suicide.


I am tempted to end here. Furious. Literally angered to the point of silence, because the levels of "wrong" related to this contest are so glaringly obvious as to need no words of explanation. But silence now would moot my goal - my accomplishment on my best days - my miniscule voice of dissent.

To be silent might in some way be seen as complacent. Or worse. Accepting.

Please be assured, I am neither.


Generally speaking, I write quickly and well when moved - either positively or negatively - by something. But today, I find myself listing the consequences of sexualized violence toward women (or violence toward women in general), espousing its wrongs, which are compounded when we consider that this specific circumstance is marketed toward children - and then promptly deleting every sentence. Because my arguments prior to this point have been about the problem en masse, and that, in and of itself, is a problem.

You see, you can espouse the horrors of a certain action to a subset of the population all you like, and, while some will agree with you, many will write off the arguments as "someone else's problem."

As with rape, murder, and genocide, no one seems to care until you give the atrocity a face it can recognize. Knowing this, ladies and gentlemen, I give you Harley Quinn:

In loving memory of Dr. Harleen Francis Quinzel, Sept. 11, 1992 - Sept. 11, 2013.

A stand out for both brains and athleticism, Harleen is remembered by classmates and colleagues as a star student, an agile gymnast, and the ultimate caregiver. As a therapist, Harleen dedicated her life and career to serving those Gothamites whom society shunned as "lost causes." Sympathetic and thoughtful, Dr. Quinn was able to reach patients deemed by others in the medical profession as "unreachable."

Her ability to relate to her patients proved both her salvation and demise, as the close bond she forged with "The Joker" granted her unprecedented insight into the mind of madness. In this void she found and forged Harley Quinn, an unendingly devoted companion to a man under whom she would suffer much abuse.

Despite numerous abuses by "The Joker" and battles with law enforcement, Dr. Quinn met her end today - on her 21st birthday - not at the will of a psychopath or by a policeman's bullet. And not, as some have reported, by her own hand. Rather, Dr. Quinn met her untimely demise at the hands of a group so heinous - so undeniably evil - that the perpetrators dare not show their faces. They hide behind the guise of "entertainment," conscripting children to do the dirty deed, not even under the cloak of darkness that shields both the guilty and the innocent.


Her killers remain at large, protected by shady lawyers and a seedy marketing campaign.

While it's rumored that Batman is on the case, what's known is that Dr. Quinn was lain to rest today. Due to controversy, the location of her burial will be kept from the public, but at least one admirer already discovered the site. Just under the numbered cross, a bouquet of red and black roses. The card reads "Mr. J."


We live in a world of injustice. Almost every article I read (and certainly the majority of news I cover in my publication) attests to the fact that nothing in life is fair. Which is why we need heroes. Heroes like Batman, who, despite tiring of pursuing her for her many offenses, would never have ended the life of Dr. Quinn.

I do not know if there will be justice for Harleen Quinn. But what I do know is that Batman would never stand for this. And that Wonder Woman, with her spectacular strength and lasso of truth, would fight this. That Black Canary would wail for this.

And that DC should be ashamed of this because even Lex Luthor never sunk so low.

Thursday, September 5, 2013