The Languages of Love

            One of the first words I better understood while studying in Berlin was the German translation for a universal emotion: Liebe. Or, as unilingual English-speakers recognize it as, love. I say “better understood” because I already knew the German translation for love long before I flew across the Atlantic to Deutschland, but it wasn’t until one discussion in my Experiential Beginning German class that I learned the difference between how Germans and Americans treat the word “love” (at least, according to Maike, my o so patient instructor).

            In that day’s lesson, Maike taught the class the difference between the sayings “Ich mag dich” (“I like you”) and “Ich liebe dich” (“I love you”). Okay, so it makes sense that two different sayings would have two different translations (and meanings), but her explanation of the way that they’re used in the two countries is what struck my classmates and me.

            Maike: German teenagers make fun of the way you Americans easily say, “I love you.” You say it for everything. {Laughs}

            Classmate #1: Really?

            Maike: {nods} They think it’s funny how you Americans declare love for everything. They mock you, saying, “Oh, I love French fries! I love my friends!” You won’t hear Germans saying that. If we really like something, we would say something like, “Ich mag es sehr” or, for people we like, “Ich mag dich.” The word “love” is more intimate for Germans, reserved for lovers.

            Class: {silent in contemplation}

            Well, that was the gist of it anyway.

            Since Valentine’s Day is today and it has been months since my stay in Deutschland, it’s a no-brainer that my mind would wander to this conversation on Liebe. But it’s now that I’m really reflecting on this. What does our (Americans’) casual declaration of love for anything and everything say about the way we treat such a powerful, serious emotion? Of course, this is a generalization, but it certainly applies to us. Think about the way we say we love something inanimate and emotionless, like a smartphone or a car. One definition Merriam-Webster has for “love” is “warm attachment, enthusiasm, or devotion.” We don’t really feel passion towards our iPhones…right?

            But before you or I think that maybe we Americans don’t really know what love is, the (hopeful) critical thinker and blogger Norbert Haupt does think we got one thing right: our frequent declaration to the people dear to us.

            I agree with Norbert when he says, “We tell each other ‘I love you’ a lot and it means much to us. Our culture is built on those few words.” It’s true—I say “I love you” to my mami when I greet her in the morning and to my daddy when I kiss him goodnight; I say “I love you” to my sisters before I lull off to sleep and to my brothers when I act like a playful punk; I say “I love you” to my best friends when we part after a long night of games and pastries; and I continue to say “I love you” to my loved ones. Not all the time, but I should.

            Norbert, then, would agree with Maike; in his description of his German upbringing, he states, “I have never said ‘ich liebe dich’ to my parents, or to a girlfriend, or to anyone else for that matter. Germans will say ‘ich mag dich’ or ‘ich hab’ dich gern.’” But he goes on to say something that my language instructor didn’t mention: “Those things are greatly watered down from the impact of ‘I love you’ and mean something to the effect of ‘I like you’ or ‘I kind of like you.’” So does that mean that it’s Germans don’t really know what love is?

            Mmm, don’t think so.

            On this holiday of love, I, an American who has lived in Germany for several months, contemplate Maike’s and Norbert’s accounts on the German and American usage of “I love you” and think this: we all feel love (or, at least, I hope we all do), and we have our own ways of expressing it. No matter our cultural upbringing, we know what it feels like for our heart to swell at the sensation of someone or something we possess a deep affection for. And, hopefully, we’re lovingly expressing that love, may it be with a declaration or a gesture.

            No matter if you do or do not celebrate Valentine’s Day, this is a day of love because, really, all days should be. Take this day to really think about who or what you love. Then, in your own unique and loving language, express your love.

-Gen Rabbit

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Myths About Attending an All-Girls School

…or half-truths that are not exclusive to single-sex education.

The women of Beauxbatons, the all-girl school in the Harry Potter movie series. From fanpop.com.

The women of Beauxbatons, the all-girl school in the Harry Potter movie series. From fanpop.com.

            If you tell someone you attended an all-girls high school, don’t be surprised if she or he gasps, shakes her or his head, and replies that that must have been hard. And maybe it was. After all, the experience is different for every girl who has ever attended a single-sex academy. But guess what? High school can be hard for anyone, no matter the sex of your school population.

            And yet, even though we have enough young adult books and movies (and, oh yeah, actual teenagers) to share how high school can be brutal (or awesome or a bit of both) for both girls and guys, there is the widely-held belief that all-girls schools are lot more hellish, sheltered, and competitive, all because there are no male students. The truth is, as true as that may be for a number of students, it is not for everyone. Believe it or not, it is not a terrible thing for young women to learn in a community where they are the role models, the participants, the leaders, the speakers—under the rules, policies, and discipline of the staff, of course, but no high school is completely run by students (and it may not be a good sign if yours is).

            As an alumna of an all-girls high school, I am more than glad to debunk some myths (or, rather, explain away generalizations) on attending an all-girls high school. And if you’re wondering how I could possibly know anything about coed schools, I have siblings and friends to compare notes with (and, really, some of these should be no-brainers).

            1. All students at all-girls schools are lesbians! With no male classmates, they end up attracted to each other.

            Newsflash, people. There are lesbians everywhere. Just like there are straight, gay, bisexual, asexual, pansexual, and people of any sexual/romantic preferences in every part of the world. The sex of the people whom you learn with for 7 hours, 5 times a week for 9 months does not ultimately dictate your sexual orientation. Can the sex of your school population influence your sexual preference, or, at the very least, make you sexually curious? Maybe, maybe not. But the question on whether sexuality is a choice or a biological trait tends to detract from the bigger issue of how sexual orientation is treated and portrayed, and it is ridiculous how people try to use the answer to determine (or, in many cases, strip away) human rights.

            In this case, it is detracting away from the myth. So, simply put, yes, there are lesbians (as well as straight students) in all-girls schools (including my own). Just like there are lesbians in coed schools. Just because they may not parade down the hallways with rainbow flags does not mean that they do not exist. Just because coed schools have male students does not mean they do not exist.

            2. Students at all-girls schools do not have any guy friends; therefore, they do not know how to act around guys.

            Some of them do. Some of them do not. Surprise, many students do have a life outside of school. Bigger surprise, some of them have boyfriends. Yes, school is a major social sphere for teenagers, and for a great number of teenaged girls and boys, it is their social life. So, yes, the absence of teenaged guys at school could make it awkward for a student of an all-girls school to interact with a guy. But there are also girls at coed schools who are surrounded by guys all the time and still cannot work up the courage to hold a conversation with a teenager of the opposite sex. Of course, as made evident by my classmates who had boyfriends, best guy friends, male co-workers, and an overall more active social life, the opposite is also true.

            For those that aren’t doing so already, I suggest that all-girls schools hold more functions (e.g. fundraisers, school dances, community events) in which their students come together with students from a local school (particularly, guys from all-boys schools). It would provide more opportunities for young women and men of single-sex education to socialize and, hopefully, have fun and make a positive change in their community. When I was in high school, the principal invited students from our brother school to one of our dances. It was not a great turn-out, but I know schools can do better than that.

            3. Since there are no guys to impress, students at all-girls schools do not care about the way they dress, so they attend class looking like a hot mess.

            This one makes me sad. Girls should not feel like they need to spend so much time in dolling up for the sole purpose of making a guy happy. Their beauty and self-worth is not determined by the approval of some guy. I understand, though, that it could be incredibly hard for girls to not feel self-conscious around guys, and the complete absence of guys at school alleviates them of that issue. And, yet, there could still be a pressure to look a certain way. Even with (usually unflattering) school uniforms and strict dress codes, girls oftentimes feel pressured to keep up with the latest trends, and, as a result, compete against each other. That’s totally not cool.

            This ridiculous expectation for young women to look glamorous (but not too glamorous unless they want to be deemed as “trying too hard”) 24/7 is felt by female students in both all-girls and coed schools. The difference, though, is that without any guys around, students at all-girls schools may feel that expectation even less. But trust me, this does not mean that girls roll up to school looking like they haven’t showered in a week. They can take care of themselves, thanks.

            4. Students at all-girls schools are catty, bitchy, ultra-competitive bullies. They need guys to keep them in line.

            No, mean girls need discipline, a reality check, and counseling, not the mere presence of boys. And, just like lesbians, mean girls aren’t exclusive to all-girls schools. Think about incidents of cyberbullying; this recent one involving the on- and offline harassment of a 16-year-old girl allegedly includes both female and male bullies at a coed high school. The point is, both girls and guys can be mean, unhealthily competitive, and plain ol’ stupid despite the sex of the members of their entire school body. To suggest that girls need to be with boys to “keep them behaved” is sexist.

            That being said, an all-girls community is not an automatic recipe for disaster. It frustrates me that there are people who honestly believe that girls cannot work together. On the contrary, all-girls teams are capable of incredible things: they design robots, act as global leaders, rally against human trafficking, win medals for amazing athletic acts, and band together to establish sporting programs. And the list goes on and on and on. I think instead of frowning upon and ridiculing the idea of girls working together, we should encourage it. Obviously, amazing things happen when they do.

            My overall point is this–all-girls schools are not as horrible as some people make them out to be. First, everyone’s high school experience differs regardless of their type of educational environment, so don’t believe that the experience of one person who attended an all-girls school (or even your own) is the exact experience of everyone else. Second, in case you are wondering if a single-sex education is beneficial or detrimental, that is an on-going debate and there is not one correct answer. On one hand, girls or boys who work in an environment without members of the opposite sex might feel more comfortable and confident in doing things they might feel shy to do otherwise, like be a team leader in a science experiment or admit a love for the arts. On the other hand, it does not give the opportunity for girls and boys to socialize and hear about each other’s triumphs and struggles. Third, students at both coed and single-sex schools go through similar (if not the same) issues. People could be mean bullies in various environments. That’s something we need to tackle together, not blame people’s sex, gender identity, or sexual preference for.

            So the next time you hear a young woman tell you she attended an all-girls school, don’t roll your eyes and assume you know her experience. You don’t. Do her a favor and listen. She may just dispel your unfair misconceptions.

My Imperfect Sense of Body Peace

...somewhat, imperfectly. (From body-peace.tumblr.com)

…somewhat, imperfectly. (From body-peace.tumblr.com)

I became aware of my body image at the age of 12. As a kid, I was always short, skinny, and a shameless picky eater. Then puberty hit like an unwelcome, sneaky guest who (in my teenaged mind) overstayed its welcome. And by the embarrassing age of 12, I was a mini woman with wide hips and a booty that would have made even JLo blush (or, again, so thought my teenaged mind). Unlike my peers whose bodies stretched out into willowy or athletic figures, I gained inch by inch of so-called baby fat.

It was then that I peered at my own reflection, deemed myself fat, and began my decade-long weight-loss struggle.

Throughout the years my body endured one crazy cycle of yo-yo dieting. For a while (let’s say, a few months at a time), I would have slimmer thighs, smaller hips, and cheeks that didn’t balloon up like a chipmunk’s with a simple smile. But most of the time I was just a short chubby girl who couldn’t resist late-night snacking.

As an adult woman, I have (somewhat) overcome that battle. It was not until last summer that I finally established a normal exercise routine and (somewhat) healthy eating habits, which I still maintain to this day. Since then I have dropped the weight I gained during and after my trip to Europe, toned my limbs, and increased my energy level. But I would be lying if I were to say that I am truly at peace with my body. There is a reason my copy of Seventeen magazine’s body peace treaty is still unsigned.

To be honest, I don’t know if I will ever be at “peace” with the body I have been blessed with. As long as I am a woman living in this media-inundated Western society, I will always be exposed to messages crowning thinness over thickness. And, trust me, you can’t exactly turn your mind off to these messages. Not easily anyway. But I do know this: I am happier with my body now than I have been for a very long time. I don’t attribute my happiness solely to my improved exercise/eating regimen (though that plays a huge part), but to my acceptance (and embracing) of certain facts about my body:

  • I will always be short: I sometimes wished that I was taller so my weight would “better” distribute throughout my stature, hence, making me look thinner. But then I figured that if I were taller, I would still probably be dealing with body image issues. So, instead, I take pride in saying that I am the shortest in my family. Don’t underestimate me– I can still kick ass.

  • I will always be curvy. Like, bubble booty, top heavy, thick thighs curvy. And I freakin’ love it. A few months ago I slipped on a dress for work, one that always flattered me no matter the number I tipped at on the scale. Except this time. It clung loose to me like an unattractive house dress. I frowned at my reflection, not at all liking the thought that I may be losing my curves. I do agree that that in itself is another body image predicament, but it was then that I realized that I would never want to be ultra-thin. That may work for some women (and, assuming that it is not a shape achieved through extreme measures, that’s PERFECTLY OKAY), but not for me.

  • My body deserves to be treated with respect. And that means consuming nutritious meals but not feeling guilty for sweet bites. Because, seriously, I love baking too much to swear off it. That also means occasionally working up a sweat, sleeping the right amount of hours, and just straight up loving it. That last part, though, is what I still play tug of war with.

So, if I accept these facts, then why the lack of complete body peace? The answer is easy: I sometimes think I will be “better” if I had the figure of a (short) Victoria’s Secret model. Ya know, with all the curves but defined abs/legs/arms/eyebrows.

I don’t know if I’ll ever get over it. But I do know that I am a short, curvy, awesome woman. And my strong body can kick serious ass.