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SPARK Puts Women on the Map!


by Joneka Percentie, Katy Ma & Aviv Rau

SPARK: Women On The Map

For the past year, we’ve been quietly working on a project that we’re thrilled to finally announce! SPARK has teamed up with Google to put Women On The Map so that wherever you are in the world, you can be alerted about something amazing that a woman did right where you are standing. In celebration of Women’s History Month, we are thrilled to launch this unique SPARK “herstorytelling” project on Field Trip, a location-based app created by Google that recommends unique and interesting places to visit. We have “mapped” more than 100 amazing and impressive women, and connected their stories with landmarks and locations significant to their lives in dozens of cities and 28 countries around the world.


In progress: learning to focus on happiness, not fitness

This post contains descriptions of disordered exercising and may be triggering to some readers.

by Annemarie McDaniel

Every Thanksgiving during middle school, my evening was broken down into two parts: the meal and the post-meal workout. The first half of the evening was like most typical Thanksgivings, filled with scarfing down turkey and mashed potatoes while joking with family about who ate the most. After saying goodbyes to my relatives and goodnight to my parents, I would lock myself up in my room, put in my headphones, and prepared for my most grueling exercise regiment of the year. I had memorized all of the best exercises from my dance and aerobics classes, and I rotated between them until every muscle in my body ached in pain. If muscle toning didn’t feel like enough, I would often turn on a movie downstairs and pedal as hard as I could on my father’s exercise bike for the two hour duration of the film.

As a ballet and jazz dancer since age 5, I had always been conscious of my weight and body health. When I was in 6th grade and joined my parents in dieting, I started shedding pounds faster than they did. It never seemed alarming since I ate three balanced meals a day and most of the time, I had a normal workout routine, just exercising in the dance studios with my instructors. But on those days where I felt really low, I lifted weights and did crunches like it was Thanksgiving night.

This became less and less of a problem by the end of high school, when I felt more positive about my friends, my academics, and my appearance. But I was deathly afraid of losing those things I gripped onto so tightly; I was constantly anticipating slip-ups that might make me less likeable or successful. After a series of private breakdowns around the time of college application season, I realized I needed to ask for help. I wanted to handle my personal problems on my own, but I was too entrenched in my own perfectionist mindset to look at things objectively. I met with a professional to talk through my unhealthy view of self-value, which gave me new strength to deal with my own flaws and shortcomings. Jumping from my high school setting into the college scene, however, was not seamless and I soon experienced new manifestations of my old problems.

“Wow, Annemarie. Really living the ‘go big or go home’ mindset with that dessert there,” a friend said to me in the dining hall. I had a small plate of gooey brownie lava cake, but suddenly it felt like a giant monument of gluttony. After dinner, I sprinted on the elliptical until the calorie counter showed that I’d sweated out every calorie of brownie lava cake. I went back upstairs and immediately passed out in bed from exhaustion. I didn’t eat dining hall desserts for weeks. I worked out until I passed out again and again over the year, spurred by the anxiety of my eating habits, my academic failures, my social life, or practically anything.

To other people I looked healthy, working out at the gym and eating a balanced diet. Some days, I did feel like that happy, healthy girl “fitspiration” images on Pinterest advertise, where they have mottos like “The stronger you are, the better you feel” or “healthy is happy” over the picture of a thin and muscular woman at the gym. But there were also days where my mindset wasn’t healthy. I wasn’t working out because I wanted to be “healthy,” I was working out because I was desperate to offset or forget my insecurities.

During my toughest semester at college, my fitness obsession turned truly all-consuming. Between working at my two stressful on-campus jobs, managing school assignments, and attempting to have a social life, I was bottling more anxious energy than I could bear. I switched from the gym to running outside because I loved the sting of my feet pounding against the pavement and the chilly autumn air cutting through my lungs. I thought about how sexy I must’ve look to every stranger I ran by. I felt it in every part of my body; my face sparkled with small beads of sweat, my legs felt strong and tones, my abs appeared slim, and my eyes were piercingly focused from the endorphins. It made me feel beautiful, but it was about pain and exhaustion. I couldn’t sleep at night unless I had done my midnight run, I couldn’t handle a stressful morning meeting unless I ditched my next class to run, I couldn’t stop crying about how overwhelmed I felt until my run, I couldn’t function through a full day without at least one run.

I realized that I needed professional help again, so I found a therapist to address my anxiety and find new strategies for managing it. I wasn’t even seeing him to directly focus on my unhealthy obsession with running, food, and body image, but as the weeks passed, I found myself running less and less every week. When I did run, I tried to focus more on the happiness it gave me rather than the toned abs or exhaustion. I dropped my most emotionally consuming extracurricular, made sure to have a better balance of both challenging and relaxing classes, and created new friendships where we could be 100% honest about the stresses of life.

I am definitely not finished with this journey. I can’t force myself to always feel happy and healthy every single day, because people’s emotions just don’t work like that. Recovery is a slow process that requires me to break down my engrained assumptions about beauty and value, forgive myself for my daily shortcomings, and accept that just because there are days where I run until I pass out or feel uncomfortable about my unhealthy lunch doesn’t mean I’m not getting better.


I deserve ED recovery, and so do you

by Anya Josephs

You deserve to get better.

Even if your eating disorder isn’t typical. Even if you don’t have symptoms every day, or every week. Even if you aren’t underweight. Even if you haven’t had any physical consequences. Even if your eating disorder has just started. Even if your eating disorder has been going on for years and you’ve lost hope.

You do deserve to get better.

I have a very atypical eating disorder in many ways. But so does everyone. Every person’s eating disorder is different, because every person who has an eating disorder is different and unique. We develop our eating disorders for different reasons, and they affect us in different ways— but the answer is the same for all of us.

The answer is choosing treatment and recovery.

Without it, the consequences can be deadly. According to the National Eating Disorders Association, anorexia nervosa has a mortality rate twelve times higher than any other psychiatric illness. And eating disorders are incredibly common. There has been a rise in incidence of anorexia in young women 15-19 in each decade since 1930. Even girls and women without eating disorders struggle with body image and disordered eating. 42% of 1st-3rd grade girls, and 81% of ten-year-olds are afraid of being fat. Half of teenaged girls and almost a third of boys have some unhealthy or disordered food behaviors, like skipping meals, smoking cigarettes to stay thin, vomiting, and taking laxatives.

I’m twenty years old, and I’ve had my eating disorder for the last ten years. I never thought I could belong in a professional treatment setting because I’ve been overweight the entire time I’ve had my eating disorder, despite severe calorie restriction and purging symptoms. So, because I wasn’t losing weight, and because no one ever suspected I had an eating disorder, I thought I must not be that sick.

It’s scary to even admit that. I’ve been invalidated by a lot of people, some who I valued very much, some who I loved and cared for, some who I was told to respect and listen to. It’s so hard to talk back to those negative thoughts, especially when my eating disorder is still such a prevalent part of me, and that part of myself is still encouraging me to hold on to it. I’m afraid of talking publicly about my eating disorder, afraid walking into my treatment center for the first time and when there are going to be new people there, afraid someone will tell me I don’t deserve to be there, that I must be lying or exaggerating because I don’t look like someone with an eating disorder.

Luckily, I was able to get help anyway. Asking for it was the scariest thing I’ve ever done, but I realized it was necessary for my health. Still, it was so hard to tell my parents about my eating disorder and to ask them to support me through treatment, to look into different treatment centers, to call and make intake appointments at several different places, to fill out all the paperwork, to detail my painful history of disordered eating to doctor after doctor. I’ve already thought about giving up many times. Maybe, I’ve thought, I’m just not ready. Maybe I need to prepare more for treatment. Maybe I’ll be okay with just therapy. Maybe I’m making the whole thing up. Yet despite these thoughts, I continued to seek out the help I need.

There is no such thing as “just a little eating disorder.” It may seem inconsequential, but it will grow, and sooner or later it would have destroyed my life. It was already dragging down my grades, stealing the energy I otherwise could have devoted to the student theatre groups, LGBTQ club, and part-time work I had to give up on, sapping my creativity, and worst of all destroying my relationships with friends and family.

I am only a month in to the process of recovery. I know that I have a long, long journey ahead of me, and that it may get worse before it gets better.

But I also know that every single person in treatment with me has at some point felt like she doesn’t really have an eating disorder. Like she doesn’t deserve to get better. Like she’s somehow different than everyone else there. I say she because the majority of eating disorders affect women, but people of all genders can be affected. In fact, it’s important to realize that anyone can be suffering from an eating disorder, even if they don’t seem like the person you might expect to be a victim of this disease.

I wish you, if you are reading this and you have ever struggled with disordered eating, could be there in treatment just for a minute, just so we can tell you face to face— as we do for each other every day— that your eating disorder is real. That the pain it causes you is valid. And that you deserve a full and happy life without it.

I can’t do that, and unfortunately I can’t make the path to recovery easier for you or anyone else. But I can say, honestly, that it’s both the hardest thing I’ve ever done and the most important choice I’ve ever made for myself.

Now, during National Eating Disorders Awareness week, I’m urging us to all be aware for ourselves— to be aware that our disorders exist, and to be aware that hope exists as well. However, even if you don’t suffer from an eating disorder yourself, be aware that someone you know almost certainly does. It may not take a typical form, it may not be obvious, but it is probably there hurting someone you love. If you notice someone suffering from disordered behavior around food or tormenting themselves with obsession around food and weight, encourage them to get real, professional help. Everyone deserves treatment, and recovery is possible for everyone, no matter what your eating disorder looks like.

If your loved one has an eating disorder, you can help them get better. If you are struggling with disordered eating yourself, you deserve to get better.

#ReadPOC2015: The House of the Spirits

by Luci Navas Sharry

I have to admit that I was entering The House of the Spirits with high expectations. Its author Isabel Allende is one of the most respected authors in Latin American literature. Her stories, which I read in school, have female protagonists who used their beauty and intelligence to advance themselves. And I wanted more. The House of the Spirits is Allende’s most famous work, published in the late 1980s, so I figured that would be the place to start.

The novel follows four generations of a prominent Chilean family, the Truebas, through the 20th century. It details how the family and its members change as the political and social landscape change with them. This inter-generational kind of storytelling is very common in Latino literature, and has lots of themes regarding tradition and revolution, that kind of thing. Naturally, one of the major themes is about women gaining their independence as time progresses.

The House of the Spirits details sexual assault in a way that’s really graphic and mentioned in a way that was just so…nonchalant. The abuse of multiple women without any sort of criticism on the part of the narrator is something I wasn’t expecting from a prominent feminist author. Part of me doesn’t know whether to take this as a face value. Because, obviously, the story is told through the point of view of a character whose opinion changes as the story progresses, right? And the character who commits sexual assault, the patriarch Esteban, has it come back to haunt him. It still bothers me, though, because for whatever reason, Allende never comes right out and criticizes sexual assault.

Allende toys with the idea that a woman must achieve her equality by using her femininity. Women should be quiet without being passive, caring without being weak, that kind of thing. Like, instead of speaking out against her violent husband, the character Clara instead takes a vow of silence. While I admit that it’s not what I love hearing, I respect that it’s her style. She also does this without being preachy, which I get is important for a book to circulate to wider audiences.

The book does show how feminist ways change throughout the century as Chile became more progressive. It reminds me of my own family, where generations of women all did something to upend the patriarchy. My great grandmother became the first woman to ever file for divorce in Venezuela, and she managed to get her kids away from her no good husband. My grandmother dropped out of high school to work as a secretary in order to support her family. My mom came to the United States from Venezuela to put herself through college, and now she has a masters degree and owns her own house. I don’t doubt that each of these women has their own view on feminism and the role of women in the house that’s vastly different from mine.  The characters in the story are the same way; they had their own response to feminism that was increasingly more pronounced as time went on.

I wouldn’t call House of the Spirits groundbreaking literature for the 80’s, but I do think that Allende painted a stunning homage to her family and to the different generations of feminism. The first and second waves weren’t perfect, but they allowed us to stand on their shoulders and improve conditions for the next generation

The truth and power of Beyond the Lights

by Montgomery Jones

Have you ever held a story so close to your heart that the thought of describing it is almost intimidating?  I feel like my words will always come up short in my pursuit to articulate the importance of a film like Beyond the Lights.

I’m not a romance film buff in general so I had no desire to see Beyond the Lights, but I should have given it more credit based solely on the fact that it was directed and written by Gina Prince-Bythewood, director/writer of Love & Basketball and The Secret Life of Bees.  At my sister’s absolute insistence, I saw the movie with her. It was her third time and my first time seeing it.  One of my favorite things while watching it was how engrossed the first audience I saw it with was. The audience (of mostly black girls and women) was completely enthralled, because Beyond the Lights touched on things that not only undiscussed in other movies, but that we as a society out and out ignore.

The film introduces us to Noni Jean, a young British biracial girl with an extremely controlling white mother and no father in the picture.  Think stage mom times 100.  In the first scene we delve in to a topic that I am all too familiar with: hair.  As a biracial child I had enough hair for ten people, super thick and long.  Noni’s white mother doesn’t know how to do her hair, so she hires a stylist to show her to brush and style it.  When my family first moved to Michigan, both of my parents worked a lot so my (white) grandma was asked to do my hair after morning showers. Long story short, she didn’t want to brush all the way through because it hurt, and a huge knot formed, resulting in some 12 inches getting cut off.  For Ms. Prince-Bythewood to include a quick scene like that was so important for me. Non-black people doing little black girls’ hair is hard and it’s a narrative many are familiar with.

Noni’s story starts off in the late 90’s as a young Noni Jean sings Blackbird by Nina Simone in a talent show. Flash forward to now, and she is hyper sexualized up and coming pop star, “Noni”.  I have to say one aspect of this film that makes ring so true are the attention to details.  The authenticity of the music videos, award shows, magazine covers, even celebrity cameos all ring true.  It made this world that so many of us are familiar with from an outsider’s perspective, seem that much more real.

I am all about sexual liberation for women, but when women  so clearly are being forced to be sexual, it’s not liberation, it’s sexualization. Noni has an industry boyfriend, rapper Kid Culprit played by real life rapper Machine Gun Kelly.  Their relationship is based solely on Kid’s attraction to Noni and her mother’s insistence that Noni be in the relationship to elevate her fame. Noni has no say in this industry and she is propped up like a doll. When Noni meets Kaz, a police officer, she is contemplating suicide.  Kaz says that he “sees her” which is so incredibly powerful.  Afterwards her mother demands to know if it’s a “cry for help.” Noni says no,  and Macy harshly says,“good, cause look around you, you got nothing to cry about.” Associating any display of pain as ways to get attention and correlating wealth and happiness are all too frequent in real life, and Macy’s dismissiveness illustrates how alone Noni is.

Noni’s record label wants to drop her and says “suicide a’int sexy”–Noni is nothing but property to the record label. All of these offhanded comments and remarks add to an all too familiar dismissive tone that depressed and anxious people.  I suffer from anxiety and depression and while my parents are incredibly supportive I have felt flack from others that have commented that my life is “fine.”

In so many television shows and movies, depression is depicted as simply being sad and someone recognizing they are depressed and that’s it.  There’s no follow through and no updates.  In this story we see a follow through.  After the suicide attempt, Noni and Kaz go on a rollercoaster of an emotional relationship with push back from both of their parents (Kaz is on track to be a political superstar and Noni is not “first lady material” according to his father).  Kaz brings up the fact that she needs help again, much later on in the story.  Depression can be buried for moments of time but it never goes away.  Societally if you’re happy then you aren’t depressed, but Kaz doesn’t let it drop even when Noni is happy, and to me that’s one of the most important things about this film.  It’s an ongoing battle and can’t be fixed with money, fame, and sometimes even love won’t solve it completely.  The film reminds me of that The Great Gatsby quote, “And I like large parties. They’re so intimate. At small parties there isn’t any privacy.”Noni has hundreds of people around her daily, but she is completely alone and unseen.

At one point in the film Noni is actually assaulted, and with real life artists like Kesha and Lady Gaga’s recent allegations of sexual assault by higher ups in the music industry, not to mention people like Bill Cosby, Woody Allen, and Roman Polanski out in the world, a fictional highly publicized assault does not seem so fictional.

Beyond the Lights tackles heavy topics head on but manages to balance the heavy stuff with the love story. I love how multidimensional Kaz and Noni are–major props to Mbatha-Raw and Parker’s natural chemistry. As they begin to delve in to each other’s worlds a little bit more, Kaz discovers that Noni wants to write her own music, but says “no one cares what I have to say.”  Kaz replies that he’s listening.  I thought that there was a wonderful parallel to the line about him seeing her when she was hanging off the balcony, because all anyone wants in this world is to know they are seen and heard.

At one point, in the most vulnerable scenes in the movie, Noni removes her weave, makeup, and acrylic nails, exposing her vulnerable side. It’s such an intimate moment that I could not help but audibly sigh. She becomes a blank slate; she can choose how she looks, erasing all of the weights her career has essentially bestowed upon her.

After seeing this film a few times I considered myself a devoted fan, but it’s the interviews with Prince-Bythewood that left me feeling like a fanatic.  She fought so hard for this movie to come to be, to have a black male lead, to even have a relatively unknown actress like Mbatha-Raw to play Noni. At the end of the day people will look at this as a “black film” because those are categorized separately from mainstream films, and that breaks my heart.  This is a movie that deserves awards, but because it is a modern day tale about something so taboo, it’s been somewhat ignored.  When asked a question pertaining to this separation, Prince-Bythewood had this to say “It’s extremely tough, because I know what I saw in rehearsals and I know what I see in the film, and it is an incredible performance. And she should absolutely be in the conversation, but the perception of this kind of film will not give it the same respect as a period piece or a biopic. I hate that, but it’s not going to make me change my focus as a filmmaker.”

Beyond the Lights is playing at the Athena Film Festival in NYC and will be released on DVD February 24th. 

‘Girl talk’ shouldn’t mean ‘sh– talk’

by Dee Putri

Talking about girls’ friendship is very confusing, because it feels like it comes with a lot ofdrama and gossip. One day a girl can hate another girl, and the next  they can be friends, even best friends! Being a girl is complicated, confusing, with no exact rules, but that doesn’t mean our friendships should be. We should be careful not to say things that make our friends mad our upset—just forget the drama!

Mean Girls is a good example of how difficult girls’ friendships are said to be. The Plastics! Remember about the Burn Book anyone? That’s it! It’s how they become ‘Mean Girls’. For you who never watch the movie (you’re missing out!), The Burn Book is a pink book where they write mean things about girls in their grade. Cady describes her friendship with Regina, the main Mean Girl, as, “I could hate her, and at the same time, I still wanted her to like me. Same with Gretchen, the meaner Regina was to her, the more Gretchen tried to win Regina back.” Damian describes Regina as, “She’s fabulous, but she’s evil.” Oh, Regina.  In my real life I really found some of these things to be true–sometimes girls really are mean, like when  they sayt bad things about the other girls (even their best friends) behind their backs. Like, one day, a girl said to me that we can’t wear heels or wedges to our college if don’t wanna be gossiped about. Why? Should we not know how it feels to  be taller in instant? It gives confidence. Confidence is not a crime! And what is the problem with wearing our favorite shoes? The people gossiping aren’t the ones paying for them. It’s not like that we’re violate their freedom or something, so why they bother? Shoes are far at the bottom of our bodies), so many times people even too busy to notice the other shoes!

So when a friend told me that it’s OK for girls to be  be so cruel to judge  other girls I was kinda surprised. She said that it is sort of fun to talk about these kind of things. Why do they keep talking bad  about other girls? I guess I don’t understand it, because I worry a lot about my life already so I don’t really pay attention to other people. And I think it’s so immature. This friend also told me that gossiping about other girls is fun. Where is the fun? Can you tell me? I think that is so sad and cruel. And it hurts, of course. Even when the object of gossip is not me, it still hurts for me. I am a gir, you know. I have feelings, and Girl Power spirit! Please remember about Girl Power, the solidarity of being a girl.

Sometimes people make the wrong assumptions about girls and then gossips based on that. How a girl dresses doesn’t tell you how is she. Don’t judge a book by its cover. Very true! I remember a scene from The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (2005) where Tibby went to hospital to visit Bailey. Tibby said, “Oh man, you were right, and I was wrong, but I’m… I’m wrong about most people, so…” and Bailey responded with, “the important thing is you always change your mind about them.” It reminded me of a time someone told me, “Everybody is nice. When you think someone is cruel now, maybe he/she will be very nice tomorrow.” In Sisterhood, Tibby, Carmen, Lena, and Bridget have been together since they were babies. I think that is why they have this kind of friendship. There is no talking bad about one another, which make this friendship is so cool! And, in many ways, more realistic than the friendships in Mean Girls. Although the girls have different character, they really fit together. Difference doesn’t matter at all.It does feel sometimes like that’s not so in my real life, where difference matters (maybe that is because we’ve worn uniforms since we were kids? Everybody is uniformed, so we can’t accept difference!)

I don’t wanna tell you that I never talk about bad about other people. I have. But it always hurt when I did it, so I decided to stop. I am trying to avoid it. How? When I really feel like I can’t help to talk about it, I  go home as soon as possible so I can listen to my favorite band and just forget it. Then I’ll be busy on the internet. Problem solved! Sometimes I go to my sister’s house and talk about it. Why? Because I know that my sister will never talk about this ‘secret’ and I’ll ask her what should I do. She always gives me useful advice, not bullshit or pitting other girls against each other.

Talking about bad things of the other girls is not fun. It hurts. It always hurts. Instead of doing this thing, why don’t you be creative? Make music, do a DIY project or zine, or write poems or a novel or an article. Being creative is much better than negative talk. If you don’t stop this bad behavior, you’ll find yourself 50 years old and still talking bad about everything (not just about the other girls) because you’re way older and talking about bad things is your major talent. We know that we can stop it. From now, we can talk about good things about the other girls. Just remember about Girl Power. We girls should be uniting to make this world a better place to live and life. Nah, it must be fun! Go go go Girl Power!

PS. When a girl ask me, “Are you alone? Where is your colony?” I really should say, “Do you know about Girl Power? Every girl in this world is my colony. It means, include you, girl ;)”