The Best Part of Star Wars May Not Be What You Expect

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So what’s really so great about the new Star Wars anyway?

I went to see Star Wars Episode VII: the Force Awakens with my two younger kids a few days ago.  I’m not much of a Star Wars fan, but as a citizen of the world how could I give up the chance to see highest first-weekend-grossing movie ever?!  As you can imagine, my kids and I anticipated something out of this world (no pun intended ;)).

As a bit of a Star Wars “novice,” I’m sure I missed a lot of the brilliance of the film.  But I definitely enjoyed the age-old good vs evil fights, father vs son theme, and the notion of the “force” within us all which makes the film oh so spiritual.  The presence of the original characters, including biggies like Princess Leia, Luke Skywalker, and Han Solo, made the film that much more fun.  The best part of the film is Rey, the female Jedi.  How great is it to see women kick some ass!?

And I bet you’ve all heard this from everybody else who has also seen the movie.

So what’s new here?

As I was watching the film, I couldn’t help ask myself: “Why do people love this franchise so much?”  We’ve definitely seen these themes in other movies too.  But then about an hour into the film, it hit me.

The film is full of crazy looking characters.  Your could even call them freaks.  Some characters appear human and others — well, how do I begin to describe them?  Some are a combination of metal parts and some look like huge rodents.  Many are downright disgusting looking.  This makes sense actually.  We are watching characters from a galaxy far far away.  Of course most of the characters wouldn’t look human.

The result of this?  Nobody looks like an outsider (or an insider for that matter).   Yoda, probably the most beloved character, looks like a cross between a gnome, dog, and a human toddler.  In this highly antagonistic galaxy, nobody is deemed a friend or enemy, good or bad because of his/her appearance.  Instead a character is considered good or evil because of what he or she DOES, e.g., rip off Rey when trading her parts, fight against or for the resistance,  see the force in Rey, and the list goes on.

What’s more, the really evil dudes — the storm troopers and Kylo — are the only ones who look the same.  They wear identical white or black uniforms and masks.  Clearly appearing the same as everyone else means you’re probably NOT a hero in this film.

Other films certainly try to mix races or “types” (think geeks and beauty queens) to represent a pluralistic society.  But they border on contrived.  And while each character may have a central role, it’s obvious each represents a “type.” Star Wars, on the other hand, pushes this multi-planetary look to the max.  While watching Star Wars you can imagine jumping right into the films’ scenes and not stand out not matter how you look.  And for many of us, that’s beautiful, beautiful thing.  I’m sure we’ve all wished we could just be the “normal” one in a situation.  I can imagine we’ve all wanted to feel like we belong no matter how we dress, sound, hold our bodies, or wear our hair.

I’m sure there are endless numbers of online communities chatting about all the many lessons Star Wars teaches us.  But the one I’m taking with me and sharing with all of you is that we should strive for a world where, like in Star Wars, there is no such thing as being beautiful or ugly, normal or weird, perfect or imperfect.  Instead, we should aim for a world where can harness our forces, and those of others, and use them for good.  Full stop.

Hope you all enjoy the movie!

A Social Experiment: What Happens When You Tell Someone s/he is beautiful?

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We are taught, and still teach, our children to look beyond people’s exteriors to truly appreciate who they are.  And I would be the first to endorse that.

But this doesn’t mean we should ignore people’s beauty.  Beauty has become such a source of conflict in our culture.  We worship and demonize it at the same time.  We see it as the holy grail or petty and shallow.   And we don’t want others to think we only appreciate them for how they look.  (See last week’s post as proof of this.)

The result? We can’t fully accept it — either in ourselves or others.  And that’s really not healthy.

There is a great independent video by teenage Chicago student, Shea Glover, that’s being circulated in social media.  One day she took her video camera to school, stopped individual kids — some she’s friends with and some she isn’t — and told them that they were beautiful.  It is a must see!  Every teenager she approached looked different.  Some were girls and some were boys.  Their skin colors, styles and facial features represented every look you can imagine.

What strikes me is how almost all of them reacted in the exact same way.

First, each is surprised, even shocked, at being called beautiful.

Second, each giggled with embarrassment by the compliment, and responded with a degree of disbelief (one of her friends even curses at her!)

Finally, they all smile — I mean REALLY smile  — with happiness and gratitude.  As one said: “That is so nice.  This has been such a great day.”

Glover explains on YouTube: “I want to clarify that my intentions were not to get a reaction out of people.  I was simply filming beauty and this is the result.”  For more on the video, “Things I find Beautiful”, read this story.

It’s a simple but powerful video.  While it only features teenagers, I bet you most of us, no matter our age, would react similarly.  It shows us that we still have a long way to go to feel confident about how we look.  And it also reminds us that we need to raise the next generation — our kids, students, loved ones — to not shy away from their beauty but appreciate it.  Not only will they feel better about themselves, but will see the amazing variety of beauty in others!  As the video concludes: “There is so much beauty in the world.  If you blink, you will miss it.”

What is also so clear to me is power of making others feel beautiful.  This few seconds of interaction with Glover gave each of these kids a wonderful boost.  Imagine if they felt this beautiful everyday!?!

What can we do?  Appreciate our own beauty for one thing.  But also help others appreciate theirs.  Think of what it would like if we told at least one person every day that we thought he or she were beautiful?  Maybe it’s a friend or total stranger.  Plus, it’s easy!  And it doesn’t cost anything.  The result is so worth it. Oh, and your kids and friends will see you do this and maybe, just maybe do the same.

Hey, we are in the middle of the holiday season, scratching our heads as to what to give are friends and loved ones.  How about whole-heartedly  complimenting them on their individual beauty?!  That’s pretty a nice gift.

Of course we are a lot more than just physical beings.  But as this video shows, appreciating all of our outward beauty can make us feel oh so beautiful on the inside too.

“87% of girls aged 11-21 think women are judged more on their appearance than on their ability” And What We Can Do to change that

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I came across this stat in a study conducted by Girl Guiding, a charity for girls and young women in the U.K.  Though the study is a few years old, it was recently quoted in a Guardian article, “From Social Media to the Catwalk: Is Fantasy Beauty Failing Young Women?”

As you can imagine from the article’s title, the Guardian story reflects on the preponderance of images of models and idealized portraits of women in social media, and how this imagery gives false and harmful notions to our girls about their own bodies.  The statistic is indeed alarming, and unfortunately a belief that will be hard to break.  Why?  Not so much because of the actual imagery put out there.  Frankly, I think we, as a society, have begun to show a greater range of what’s considered beautiful.  After all, Kim Kardashian in by no means a size 0.  And digital’s ability to cross borders means we get to see images of people from all different ethnicities and backgrounds that we never have before.  Check out the posts I wrote: Beauty From Around the World and Why It’s Contagious  or What’s the Definition of Beauty Anyway?  (a story celebrating people with “abnormalities”) both of which tap into digital’s revealing of new ways to think about beauty.  Do I think we can go even farther in presenting more realistic images of girls and women?  Sure!  But that’s not going to change our being judged by our looks.

The reason this will be a hard habit to break is that we are a visual species.  Our ability to analyze information is far more sophisticated and quicker via our eyes than via language.  That is why we’ve glommed on to all the photo taking, altering and sharing in the digital space.  And it’s not such a bad thing!  By taking, sharing, and appreciating images, we get to see a deeper story behind people’s lives.  Images give so much more texture than mere words.  Images offer nuance and emotional details that our texting would normally leave out.  Moreover, these images remind us of the tremendous beauty that’s around us or oceans away.  And that reminder elevates our daily lives — showing us how amazing our world truly is.

We make assumptions, draw conclusions and make judgments based on what we see, first.  Should we be content with the high percentage of girls who believe they are judged by what they look like alone?  Of course not.  We have to face the reality that our eyes will draw conclusions.  Let’s not ignore that.  What we can do is urge one another to not STOP at what we see, but rather dig into what’s behind the exterior.  And we must start with ourselves.

I actually think there’s even another way to look at this issue. Let’s not devalue the exterior beauty of what and who is around us. Let’s certainly NOT pretend it doesn’t exist. We SHOULD recognize it. In fact, let’s appreciate all people’s beauty, and recognize that how people uniquely appear is part of the story to be sussed out and listened to. It’s not an all or nothing proposition. We should value all the amazing characteristics of things and people — their unique beauty along with their origins, their stories, their talents and generosity. If we see — and remind our children and friends to see — that all people are a collection of traits, some physical, some emotional, some spiritual and some intellectual, we will value people as a whole that much more.

We have the amazing power to look AT and look INTO our world. Let’s do both and maybe that statistic will be a thing of the past.

 

Beautiful Protests: Don’t Dismiss Beauty Queens. The Chinese Govt is Downright Scared of Them & for Very Good Reason!

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There’s a lot of different ways to protest.  Unfortunately, we’ve seen some of the worst of them over the past few weeks.  But, for the most part, challenging the status quo, the social wrongs we see, or just plain ol’ anachronistic thinking is an incredibly valuable and innate human behavior.  And, tonight being the first night of Hannukah — a commemoration of the Maccabees’s protest against the repressive Greek regime of their day — it’s only fitting to celebrate it!

The more tyrannical or oppressive the object of our protest, the more crafty, clever and creative we must be in our rebellious acts.  We can’t always march in the street or publish our thinking.  We need to use what we have at our disposal.  And that is exactly what a few feisty beauty queens did as they protested against the Chinese government.  Over the course of the last few days, I saw news story after new story highlighting not just one, but two, beauty pageants that have enraged the Chinese government.

At the Miss Earth beauty pageant, the contestant from Taiwan, Ting Wen-yin, refused to change her sash from “Miss Taiwan ROC” to “Miss Chinese Taipei.”  Her explanation: “I was born in Taiwan, my sash now says Taiwan, I represent Taiwan, and I’m going to use the name of Taiwan in appearing at this pageant.”  She also shared in social media the horrible treatment that all the contestants were subjected to like not being served some meals and forced to attend night clubs to flirt with men.  The result? She was reprimanded, banned from certain activities, and not allowed to be in pictures.  Eventually she was kicked out all together. (For more of the story, read here)

Around the same time, another story hit the news stream about Anastasia Lin, a Chinese-born woman who was crowned Miss Canada.  She has been using the pageant’s platform and the subsequent press coverage to speak against the Chinese government.  She has also created films and written essays to share the corruption and repressive acts of her former government.  And the Chinese leadership was pissed.  Majorly.  They tried to ban her from the Miss Universe pageant.  This, of course, backfired creating an even bigger uproar and heightening her efforts that much more.

Needless to say, the Chinese government is super skittish now when it comes to beauty pageants.

What these stories show us is that the “popular” cultural activities, like beauty pageants (and the people who participate in them) which we may snicker at, can play a powerful role in society.  While I have a hard time endorsing the parading of women around in bathing suits, I also have the seen the power of these “institutions.”  Since the beginning of time and into today, pageants have served as spaces where women could achieve something — whether a way out of poverty or a podium to protest.    I applaud Lin and Wen-yin who not only risked their success to tell their stories, but who realized how to best use the gifts they had and the circumstances they found themselves in, i.e., beauty contests, to do it.  Would they have been listened to if they didn’t use this platform?  Maybe…but, then again, maybe not.

It’s easy for us to look down at people who want to show off and get rewarded for their physical beauty.  But many of us aren’t in the same social, economic and political situations as these people.  Moreover, when beauty contestants use their beauty, and the pageants that showcase their beauty, in ways that most of us wouldn’t have the guts to, how can we NOT admire them?

Lesson here? First, let’s never ever assume that beauty queens are dumb.  Second, we shouldn’t assume that the popular, seemingly frivolous events, like beauty contests, don’t have a potential role for social betterment.  Finally, let’s appreciate the fact that we live in a society where we CAN protest a multitude of ways without fear of reprisal.