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J. M. Butler Posts

Bitterness

Bitterness is one of the things I hate to see in writers, both as a reader and as a fellow writer. It’s a thousand times worse when it’s combined with ego.

Lately, I’ve been seeing a number of writers bemoaning the standards in the writing world, the state of the publishing world in general, and the overall stupidity of readers. Everyone needs a place to vent. The risk of venting online is that those ventings can last forever. The other risk of perpetual venting is that resentment and bitterness may start to grow. Rather than purging the negative emotions, it can sometimes cause them to fester. By letting them out, these negative feelings are then reinforced and brought back in.

Here’s the deal. The writing world is not fair. I can’t think of any place that is fair. The publishing world has developed a series of standards that are intended first and foremost to bring in money. While that might seem to some like it’s spitting in the face of the art form, it’s actually not. Publishers want to make money, sure. But they have to have money to get the books out there. And while on the author end, I get why it’s so frustrating that a publisher isn’t willing to take a chance, no writer deserves to be published without earning it. And someone has to care for the business.

The problem comes when bitterness sucks the joy from the writing process. Writing is hard work. Finding an audience is a hard work. Most writers will never be recognized for their abilities, and not everyone with a platform deserves one for the quality of her writing. But bitterness does nothing more than weaken us as writers. When I let bitterness take hold of me, it does nothing but ruin my enjoyment of the craft.

From a reader’s perspective, it makes me uneasy about connecting with that author. The writers whom I am most loyal to, aside from the greats, are those writers who I have connected with personally. Whether their works will stand the test of time like Lord of the Rings or Treasure Island remains to be seen, but I am loyal to them because I have gotten to know them as individuals. Bitter people make me uneasy because they are often just looking for someone to spew their venom on. And so if I am reading a writer’s blog or commentary on a site, I sometimes take note if they seem excessively bitter, and I make it a point to avoid those individuals. That sort of sentiment typically bleeds through into the writing itself, and it can be remarkably offputting.

Again this isn’t meant to criticize those who need to vent. It hurts. It’s painful. Writing is so difficult. And sometimes we just need to let that out. But don’t let the bitterness remain. It can be devastating.

Day One of A – Z Challenge: Introduction Authentic Writing

So I heard about the A – Z Challenge, and, since I’ve been putting this off long enough, I decided to do it.

This is a huge step for me because I’m such a perfectionist that I didn’t want to start writing regularly on my blog until I had the site all up and developed the way I wanted it to be. And it certainly isn’t. Every day, I’m working on it a little bit, though I’m getting to the point where I may just need to hire someone. Still, I’d really like to learn how to do it.

Perfectionism is one of my weaknesses. It’s not so much the fact that I am a perfectionist as the fact that I allow that desire for perfection to derail my goals and projects. I have revised some short stories more than 40 times. I get frustrated because I keep finding mistakes. Having a desire to do my best isn’t a bad thing. Most people have that. But when the determination to do the best and to be perfect becomes a roadblock, it has to be stopped.

I have to accept that I sometimes make numerous mistakes that I can’t catch. No matter how many times I check. Perhaps it’s there to keep me humble. Perhaps I’m just blind to a certain number of errors, lol. I don’t know. But the good thing is that mistakes can be corrected. I’ll still do my best, but I’ll recognize that doing my best does not necessarily mean that it is going to be perfect on the first go through.

So the theme for this month’s posts will be on authentic and organic writing, writing that reads as if it comes straight out of the soul while still being understandable, creative, and engaging.

 

The Incredible Experience of Reading a Good Book

Recently, I discovered Wattpad. I’ve been a part of the site now for almost three weeks. At first, I was tentative about participating, but now I enjoy it more than any other writing site I’ve been on. One of the best parts is the wide variety of works to read and comment on.

So far, most of the works that I have read are amateurish, though many have passion and heart. However, a surprising number have been excellently written, and I expect to see great things from the authors. I’ve enjoyed it a great deal.

But what surprised me even more was when I took some time off from critiquing and curled up with a classic. After seeing so much bad writing, seeing that incredibly written classic revitalized me even more. For writers and critiquers as well as reviewers, it’s important to regularly read well written works to help remember the standards as well as to see how skilled and experienced authors handle their stories. It’s refreshing, and it brings a whole new love for literature.

The site is in process of being updated, and I think it’s starting to look good. More updates will be forthcoming.

Dove’s Natural Beauty Campaign’s Underlying Message

The Dove natural beauty campaign has been going on for awhile with a number of entries in their supposed support for natural beauty. At its heart, this campaign is still a marketing endeavor, intended to convince people to purchase their products. But it claims to be about empowering women and girls, giving them confidence and recognizing the beauty within. Here’s the problem though: that’s not what they’re doing.

I don’t doubt the good intentions of the people behind this campaign. On paper, it sounds great. Get “real” pictures of women and girls, exemplifying true and natural beauty. In fact, they call it “real beauty.” Real and natural beauty as opposed to plastic, stylized beauty sounds like a great idea, particularly given to all the alteration that goes on for women in the media to fit the supposed beauty standards.

The problem comes down to the people that they show and what they’re trying to do. Back a few years ago, Dove actually made the mistake of requesting women who fit within certain categories. One of the ways that you could be excluded? Not having flawless skin. You see this reflected in a recent video on Selfies as all of the featured women and girls seem to be devoid of scars or skin imperfections.

The Dove team goes in with Michael Crook to teach girls and their mothers to take selfies in an attempt to redefine beauty. At first, it seems like a normal enough group of teens. But something felt off. I replayed the video a couple times, and then I realized something quite amazing. All of the girls and women featured in the video look really good. There are remarkably few individuals who are overweight, let alone obese. Only a couple have braces. There’s no blotchy or red acne covered skin. The hair looks great and clean. And everyone seems to fall fairly close within societally accepted standards for beauty. Even the girls who supposedly have no make up on have incredibly smooth skin without scarring or blemish. Now perhaps I live in a “less attractive” part of the world. Maybe the high school and junior high school here is home to students who don’t all look like they could appear in a skin care commercial. But I don’t think so.

I’ve gotten to travel a fair bit, and I’ve met a lot of incredible students. The one thing I’ve noticed is that generally there’s a lot of variety in what people look like and even in what individuals find to be beautiful. While certain areas are more homogeneous, those areas do tend to differ from one another. So what is it saying when a video purporting to represent real beauty doesn’t actually represent the beauty found in real individuals?  Can a girl not be beautiful is she is obese? Or what if she is skeleton thin? Of course, many would probably say “well, we don’t want to promote unhealthy body images on either side,” and I would say “yes, but…” See, not everyone who is obese is obese because all she does is sit on the couch and eat potato chips and Oreos just as not everyone who is skeleton thin is anorexic or bulimic. Health issues of all kinds wreak havoc with the body. Does that mean that the girl who suffers from a glandular disease must accept that she cannot be a “real beauty” until after she loses all the weight? Or the girl who just survived cancer and chemo and is now as thin as a rail must accept that she will not be a “natural beauty” until she gains enough weight to be seen as healthy and not a risk for encouraging other girls toward a life of anorexia. And what about those with disabilities? Can someone with Down Syndrome or cerebral palsy not be recognized as natural or real beauties?

One of the girls on the video states that what some people see as making them less attractive actually makes them unique and that is what makes them beautiful. But that is not necessarily the case. For many years, I’ve struggled with severe and weeping eczema. The lesions covered my body, and sometimes they became infected, leaving me in agony. Just recently I suffered another setback, and the eczema sores spread to my face. It looked like someone had beat me up. The skin on my face had tightened, and the areas around my eyes were deep red, blotchy, bloody, crusted, and horrible looking. I looked like I was turning into Red Skull very slowly. That certainly did make me unique. No question about it. But did it make me more beautiful? No. Not at all. The beauty that I have was in spite of the physical imperfections. But does the presence of that imperfection mean that I can’t be beautiful? No, but that’s another topic.

Instead, think of how much more powerful Dove’s real beauty campaigns would be if they did take real women and real girls from all walks of life and showed them the “real” beauty that they possessed instead of taking those who are already, by and large, quite beautiful. Perhaps they could search for the beauty that might not be seen as easily at first, not through a makeover but through just that careful search. Beauty is often based on culture as much as personal preferences, and so some arbitrariness will always intrude. But it would be so much more effective if the girls and women they chose had beautiful aspects but were not entirely gorgeous. Can you be beautiful with flawed skin? Can you be beautiful with thinning hair? Can you be beautiful with anything more or less than a healthy BMI? Can you be beautiful with non symmetrical features?

Yet at the same time, I wonder if perhaps the wrong message is being focused on all together. At the end of this ad just as the Dove Real Beauty Sketches, the girls put up their pictures and receive compliments on how beautiful they are.  People recognize how these girls and women fit within the societally accepted standards of beauty. Often times, they point out that aspects that the girls thought made them less than beautiful fall within what others consider beautiful. One girl talks about how her hair just looks so ugly on her, when it’s really a beautiful and everyone comments on it. At the end of the day, these girls are getting acceptance and compliments for being what others consider to be beautiful. It’s true that this is telling this select group of girls and women that they fall within a category that could be considered beautiful, but it’s still telling them that what others think of their appearance and how others evaluate their beauty is an important component in their self worth and identity.

Not being physically beautiful is not the worst thing that can happen to a person. It isn’t easy to redefine what is beautiful in the cultural sense. And even if it is redefined, there will always be those who don’t match up to those standards. A large segment of the population doesn’t measure up to the standards that Dove puts forth in its “real beauty” ads. Not everything that is unusual or unique is going to be considered beautiful. And that’s okay. It really is. While you may feel relieved to realize that you meet up to a societal standard or that you fall within the “beautiful category,” don’t let that define your worth. Beauty does not make you strong. Strength may be something that makes you beautiful, but beauty does not create it.

Back to Dove, at the end of their day, this campaign is all about sales. They are targeting a particular demographic. This is about creating a brand and making women think that Dove supports natural beauty and real beauty. But they don’t. In fact, some of their other products such as the skin lightening crème to make you look fairer skinned even directly contradict what they’re claiming to do here. But even if they support their own perspective of beauty that may be more attainable than Victoria’s Secret, it still isn’t accessible to everyone. And once more, as long as you aren’t placing your value in how others rank your beauty, that may be all right. You don’t have to be a natural beauty or a real beauty to matter any more than you have to be a stylized beauty or a model beauty to have value.

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