Everyone's favorite ginger! (Who also goes by Mary of Hailmary). If you don't read her blog, start. Seriously. Anyway, she agreed to let me interview her about body image, feminism, and of course, her activism against the genocide Darfur.
In many ways, you’re a very traditional female-- you have great style, are a classic beauty, and show a large amount of compassion. Are people ever surprised at how much you’ve already accomplished with STAND and other projects because of these traits?
OH THANKS haha.
Ironically enough, I get a lot of incredulity from both sides. People definitely find me a little hard to peg down at first. I can almost see them thinking, “She’s dressed nicely, but weirdly... HMMM. How shall we judge her?” but within minutes of meeting me, even if I’m having a shy or intimidated moment, people somehow expect me to be an activist. I think it’s because I’m frequently talked about something I heard on Rachel Maddow or because I read a lot of philosophy. (I’ve always found this weird because most philosophy lovers I know tend to be very into Nietzsche or Sartre, which they interpret into justifiable apathy, but whatever.)
I think all and all some people are a little cynical towards my accomplishments (“Oh wow what an impressive upper middle class white girl with an expensive bag! She’s saving the world...”) at first but it’s important to defy these stereotypes because if activism becomes something that is all or nothing, people will usually go for nothing, and the world cannot afford this.
I think people are more surprised to discover I’m 19, not 14, or 12 years old or something. That’s what I get for being 4’9.
A lot of posts on your blog deal with body image. Why do you think so many girls hate their bodies?
I don’t think many girls start off hating their bodies as much as they are just confused as to what to do with their individual, unique bodies and no one teaches them how to love them so they resort to hatred. I really do think if it was explained to girls that there are so many perceptions of beauty, with examples given, instead of a cookie cutter “love yourself!” we wouldn’t be so terribly into the situation we’re in. Because people frequently don’t take the time to explain to girls what makes their body so beautiful, girls do go to a stock answer from the media. I remember gazing upon a rather thin, tall model in my grandmother’s Vogue when I was twelve, and although I don’t blame Vogue for this thought, I did think “This is what beautiful looks like” because I was twelve, and the model was beautiful. A template sprung up in my head, and this stock definition of gorgeous did stay with me for a few years, which inevitably ended up with me hating myself for not being gorgeous.
Worth noting is a conversation I had today with a co-worker when she complained how lucky I was to have such cute ankles. The thought that she had taken the time to notice my ankles, and then complain about her own, made me think for a minute, “Oh no, this is going to be another think I’m going to worry about, isn’t it?” Apparently there is even a name for it; cankles. I’d make a joke about paranoia and superficiality combined but it’s not really funny at all.
Who is your favorite female icon?
Instinctively I started typing Amelie Poulain! Daria Morgendorfer! Liz Lemon! but I then realized these women are all fictional, and as much as they should be admired, it’s insulting to real women everywhere for me to leave the list at awesome people thought up by someone else.
All and all, I’d say Eva Peron. She was epically quotable, just as glamorous as Marilyn Monroe, and loved by her people. She didn’t need a reason to care, she just cared. She didn’t concern herself with policies and funding and papers, she just saw problems and fixed them. She was loved because she gave love.
How did you first become interested in activism?
Good question. Really really good question. I wish I had a good answer, but I don’t. I had hippie parents, I’ve always been interested in politics, my grandmother was a mover and a shaker... I don’t know. I was never not aware of global tragedy and developing countries. I boycotted sweatshops at age eight.
I was born to be in love with humanity.
What has been your proudest moment since you began your work against genocide in Darfur?
During my first annual walk for Darfur that I organized largely by myself, there was a huge crowd of us walking through a residential area. We were making quite a clatter and I noticed an elderly lady pruning her bushes and felt an inexplicable twinge of guilt that we were making so much noise, even if people needed to hear it. As we walked by, she looked up at me, we made eye contact, and she said “I’m going to use the Google for this Darfur” directly to me in broken English and then gave me the peace sign.
This small gesture of hers always makes me glow beyond any others thus far.
What is the greatest compliment you’ve received, and who gave it to you?
Once when I was running to the airport in the mist, headscarf on and rolling bag behind me, a woman stopped me in the middle of a busy Toronto sidewalk and said, “I haven’t seen someone look as classy as you do now in... ages.”
I’m really big on the kindness of strangers and it leaves such an impact on me because it takes courage to tell someone you don’t know something. I love when the real emotion outweighs the fear of awkwardness. Also, my mother told me I was a good person. My mother is not affectionate at all, this was a bit of a big deal.
I think the first biggest thing that you absolutely have to do is find cause that hurts your soul and shakes the foundations of your life. I think there is one out there for everyone, and as much as there are a lot of worthy causes out there, one or two will affect you so much more profoundly than any others, and you need to find this one to motivate you and make you realize what you’re doing is worth it.
I would also suggest starting a group. Teamwork is important because it holds you accountable to goals, as well as makes them easier, so you will get more done. Besides, can you really expect one person to help the 2.5 million refugees in Darfur right now?
(Hint: the answer is no.)
What are a few good book or website recommendations for budding feminists?
The first time I read Simone de Beauvoir’s book The Second Sex, I tried to pee standing up. REALLY. And you probably will too. Or you’ll at least think really, really hard about it. I have rambled on waaay too much about her since. She is a genius. She is more than a genius, she is a woman (Oh snap!)
De Beauvoir aside:
Persepolis: a graphic novel detailing a young woman growing up in Iran under the reign of the Shah.
The 1980s issue of National Geographics with the girl from Afghanistan with the really fantastic green eyes. It’s famous, do some research or go to the library and you’ll find it.
Jezebel.com: Don’t dismiss it based on its frivolous looking header. The women behind it rock, and it combines fun and feminism! Hurrah!
Ani Difranco: A college girl staple, Difranco’s music is like all of the bad poetry you wrote in high school when no one understood you... except it’s god poetry.
The Rachel Maddow Show: Since every single news anchor out there is biased, you might as well chose the one that has the most bad ass bias possible and can actually back hers up.
Thanks so much to Mary for this awesome interview. Here's a link to her blog, which is always full of wit, Daria clips, and spirited rebellion. (Not to mention everything you need to start making a difference in Darfur).