TIME women

I’m a Body-Positive Feminist and I Had Weight Loss Surgery

woman-thumbs-up
Getty Images

The same philosophy that allowed me to find peace with my fat body also allowed me to make the decision to have weight loss surgery

xojane

OK, so this wasn’t really something that “happened” to me. I made an educated decision about my body and my future.

I have always been fat, and for a long time, I really hated it. I spent more than two decades of my life wishing I would magically wake up “normal.” Until I was in my mid-20s, I didn’t know what it felt like to not wear a heavy cloak of shame and insecurity.

Like so many other fat girls with Internet access, I discovered that body positivity was a thing, and that I could feel good about myself and I didn’t really have to give a fuck about what other people thought. I decided to be happy, regardless of my size. I began identifying as a fat feminist. I actually started feeling okay about my body. I was doing okay and there were people who liked me, even loved me, despite my fatness. At some point, I even started kind of liking myself, and then my fatness became somewhat of a non-issue. Eventually I came to be at peace with my body. It was mine and mine alone, and it was beautiful.

As I moved into my 30s, life happened. I was thriving in a supportive community of folks who embraced me as I was. I got a good job; I found my soul mate; I got engaged. My size was a non-issue, and I was happy.

But I wasn’t healthy. I was on medication to prevent my high blood sugar from turning into diabetes. I slept with a machine attached to my face to keep me breathing at night. I didn’t have the stamina I needed to be able to do my work every day. Polycystic ovary syndrome, which is closely tied to what doctors liked to refer to as my “morbid obesity,” meant I might not be able to have babies, and I was more likely to get diabetes or certain kinds of cancer. Physically, I didn’t feel good. Emotionally, I was at a crossroads.

In short: I could continue not caring about my weight and go about business as usual. Or, I could lose weight. I’d struggled with depression and, yes, even suicidal thoughts in the past, but when I started having health problems, I was at a happy place in my life — and I wanted it to stay that way. I wanted to be my best self, and for me, that didn’t just mean being happy with my physical body, it meant having my physical body be healthy.

My decision to have weight loss surgery was not made lightly. I spent a lot of time trying to reconcile my body-positive politics with my desire to live longer and have babies and be able to walk up the flight of stairs to my office without getting winded. I also spent a lot of time trying to lose weight through more conventional methods, like diet and exercise. My medical conditions made that nearly impossible, and no matter what I did, my health kept declining.

Ultimately, the same philosophy that allowed me to find peace with my fat body also allowed me to make the decision to have weight loss surgery.

I made an educated decision about my body. It was mine, and mine alone.

Yes, weight loss surgery can kill you. And yes, I’m an advocate for health at any size. But, real talk: Being fat was actually, actively killing me. For me, the benefits of weight loss surgery outweighed the risks. Having your guts rearranged is not fun, but overall, my improved quality of life has made this process, albeit difficult, worthwhile.

The experience of losing more than 140 pounds in a very short period of time has been socially and emotionally difficult, too. When you lose weight, everyone starts to pay very close attention to your body. People I barely know now find it appropriate to tell me how happy or impressed they are by my change in appearance, while I often feel judged by the fat-positive community in which I once found comfort and acceptance.

My body was nobody’s business before I had surgery, and it’s nobody’s business now.

For me, weight loss surgery was not an “easy way out.” It was a tool that was available to me, and I made the informed decision to use it to take control of my health. I can’t think of much that’s more empowering — or body positive — than that.

Trisha Harms is a writer, social media strategist, and social justice advocate. This article originally appeared on xoJane.com.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME White House

Barack Obama Holds First Ever All-Women Press Conference

President Barack Obama speaks during his speech to members of the media during his last news conference of the year in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House on Dec. 19, 2014 in Washington.
President Barack Obama speaks during his speech to members of the media during his last news conference of the year in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House on Dec. 19, 2014 in Washington. Alex Wong—Getty Images

The President made a statement without his actions

President Barack Obama’s traditional end-of-year press conference Friday was historic for reasons that had nothing to do with the substance of the president’s comments. All eight of the reporters who questioned Obama were women—and nearly all were print reporters—an apparent first for a formal White House news conference, a venue traditionally dominated by male television correspondents.

“The fact is, there are many women from a variety of news organizations who day-in and day-out do the hard work of covering the President of the United States,” said White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest, after the event. “As the questioner list started to come together, we realized that we had a unique opportunity to highlight that fact at the President’s closely watched, end of the year news conference.”

The departure was noticed throughout the room, as Obama passed over male reporters in the front row and called on their female colleagues. “This seems unprecedented for a solo White House press conference,” said Towson University Presidency Scholar Martha Joynt Kumar, who tracks interactions between the president and the press corps, noting she does not recall a similar occasion in any previous administration. “It certainly is for Obama.”

The list of those called on:

  • Carrie Budoff Brown, Politico
  • Cheryl Bolen, Bloomberg BNA
  • Julie Pace, Associated Press
  • Lesley Clark, McClatchy
  • Roberta Rampton, Reuters
  • Colleen M. Nelson, Wall Street Journal
  • Juliet Eilperin, Washington Post
  • April Ryan, American Urban Radio

Before the George H.W. Bush White House, it would have been hard to find eight women to ask questions of the president, as there weren’t that many on the beat. Kumar noted that 10 women out of 21 reporters in the first three rows of the briefing room were women, the latest indication that the White House press corps is growing more diverse.

The White House informed the television networks they were unlikely to get questions at the new conference because each had asked the president questions at least twice since the midterm elections.

“It’s amazing for that to happen as that room is filled with a majority men,” said Ryan, who shouted out a question to the president and was acknowledged over questions shouted by male reporters. “I’ve been in one other historic press conference and got a question in the East Room and he called on a number of black reporters and it was amazing to be there. it was saying that maybe this room and this building is trying to reflect society and reflect America.”

In that press conference, on Sept 10, 2010, Obama called on four black reporters out of 12 questioners.

TIME Nigeria

Boko Haram Suspected in Mass Kidnap in Northeast Nigeria

The leader of Nigeria's Islamic extremist group Boko Haram on Oct. 31, 2014.
The leader of Nigeria's Islamic extremist group Boko Haram on Oct. 31, 2014. AP

The latest in a string of abductions

Islamist militants of the group Boko Haram are suspected of abducting at least 100 women and children, and killing nearly three dozen others, from a remote village in northeastern Nigeria.

Gunmen in trucks raided Gumsuri last Friday and staged an attack that ended on Tuesday, the Wall Street Journal reports, citing members of a local vigilante group. Gumsuri is located near Chibok, where 276 schoolgirls were abducted in April. The number of abductions in the new attack varies between news outlets, hovering between more than 100 and above 200.

Mike Omeri, a government spokesman, told TIME that the government is “outraged and deeply saddened by this deplorable act” and said the real number of those abducted isn’t known yet.

“It is impossible to verify the number of those missing at this early stage because it is presumed that many civilians fled during the attack,” he said in a statement. “As soon as government agencies and our local partners have together determined the credible number of missing civilians, we will provide that information to the public.”

The recent raid, the latest in a string of similar abductions in the restive region, comes about two months after the Nigerian government claimed it had reached a cease-fire with Boko Haram and that the group planned to release the schoolgirls. The group’s leader Abubakar Shekau later denied that a deal had been reached and said the girls had already been married off.

Read next: Girls Who Escaped Boko Haram Tell of Horrors in Captivity

TIME Supreme Court

Supreme Court Declines to Hear Arizona Abortion Arguments

The justices left in place a lower court ruling

(WASHINGTON) — The Supreme Court is refusing to allow Arizona to enforce stringent restrictions on medical abortions while a challenge to those rules plays out in lower courts.

The justices on Monday left in place a lower court ruling that blocked rules that regulate where and how women can take drugs that induce abortion. The rules also would prohibit the use of the abortion medications after the seventh week of pregnancy instead of the ninth.

Planned Parenthood was among abortion providers that challenged the rules in federal court. The San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals prevented the state from putting them in place during the legal challenge. Similar laws are in effect in North Dakota, Ohio and Texas. The Oklahoma Supreme Court struck down the restrictions in that state.

The rules would ban women from taking the most common abortion-inducing drug, mifepristone, after the seventh week of pregnancy. The Food and Drug Administration approved its use in 2000 through the first seven weeks of pregnancy. It is prescribed along with a second drug, misoprostol.

Since the FDA approval, medical researchers and clinical trials have shown that mifepristone is effective in much smaller doses and for two weeks longer in a pregnancy, the challengers said. The second drug also may be taken at home.

Arizona’s rules would require that the drugs be taken only at the doses approved by the FDA in 2000 and only at clinics.

Planned Parenthood says that medical abortions now account for more than 40 percent of abortions at its clinics.

To justify the restrictions, Arizona and the other states have pointed to the deaths of at least eight women who took the drugs. But the 9th circuit said the FDA investigated those deaths and found no causal connection between them and the use of mifespristone or misoprostol.

TIME Parenting

My Breasts, My Choice: Why I’m Nursing My Three-Year-Old

mother-holding-baby
Getty Images

Talk about extended nursing (what we in the U.S. consider breastfeeding any child past the somehow magic age of one) and the crazy comes out

xojane

At three years old, my middle son wakes up as a different animal every morning. He tells me which by calling my name: “Mama Dragon,” he says, or “Mama Bear,” or “Mama Owl.” He calls me by name, always, and asks the same question: “Mama Stingray,” he says, “I have mama milk?”

“Not until after breakfast,” I tell him. “You know the rule. Breakfast first, then mama milk, or else you don’t eat your breakfast.”

Sometimes he accepts this easily, wolfs down some Gorilla Munch, and forgets about milk. Sometimes he gets angry, yells and insists he wants mama milk right now. Sometimes he cries and pouts so badly I write a note: MAMA MILK AFTER BREAKFAST, I spell out on a Post-it. He can’t read, but he clutches it like a ticket, this written assurance that he will, indeed, get the cuddles and milk he needs.

Yes, needs.

Baby Bear is three years old, and Baby Bear still needs to nurse. I’m OK with that and have even encouraged it. Not forced — encouraged. And I’m happy with it.

Talk about extended nursing — what we in the U.S. consider breastfeeding any child past the somehow magic age of one — and the crazy comes out of the woodwork.

“Weird” is the nicest word some commenters muster. Extended nursing has been likened to sexual abuse, to a power play in the mommy wars, to a sick desire to keep a child a baby. People claim it’s for the mother’s benefit, that children are forced to keep nursing, that it’s all about the mom and not about the child.

When I told my mother-in-law I planned to nurse my first son until he chose to wean, she could only manage to splutter, “But how do you expect him to go to preschool?”

Mostly, though, our collective discomfort with extended nursing comes from our persistent sexualization of breasts. Despite legal protections, hardly a week passes that a nursing mother isn’t asked to leave a store, cover herself, or decamp to the bathroom. Breasts, it seems, are only for sexual pleasure. Therefore, their association with children — especially children who can ask for them — becomes tantamount to child abuse.

I’d like to take my breasts back, thanks.

Let me quote the Bloodhound Gang here: you and me, baby, ain’t nothing but mammals. My breasts are not my husband’s. They are not my son’s. They are, first and foremost, my own. And I have chosen to use them for extended breastfeeding: their biological purpose.

There are a lot of reasons for that. Kathy Dettwyller, anthropologist and professor at the University of Delaware, claims the natural age for human weaning, when children are allowed to nurse for as long as they wish, falls somewhere between three and four years of age. Based on physiological and maturational comparisons to other mammals, she estimates the minimum age of human weaning at 2.8 years of age, with a maximum of seven years.

In light of that, nursing barely-three-year-old Baby Bear seems pretty unremarkable.

But it’s not just evolution that tells me to keep going. The benefits of nursing don’t just disappear at age one. Antibodies in breast milk help keep Baby Bear healthy. The longer I nurse, the lower my risk of breast cancer — something every pink-ribbon-waving feminist can support. But most important for me are the psychological benefits.

Baby Bear’s little brother Sunny is a year old. Sunny was a surprise; while we planned Baby Bear and his older brother, we didn’t bank on Sunny. And one of the reasons for that is Baby Bear himself. He’s always been needy, always begged for extra assurances. He warms slowly to family and friends alike. He approaches life with a narrow-eyed skepticism, as if he’s waiting for it to disappoint him. A fall that has his older brother laughing makes him wail. Of all my children, I worry about him inheriting my depression and anxiety the most. He’s a delicate soul, Baby Bear is. And I knew he wouldn’t handle being supplanted.

Because I knew that, I nursed all through my pregnancy. Nursing gave Baby Bear a chance to be a baby again. Like his new little brother, he got special cuddles from mama. He had that magic time of mama all to himself. He nestled in my lap; I kissed his head; we were still deeply, uniquely together. It helped his transition from baby to middle child.

And so we just … kept going. Nursing gave him a safe place. Baby Bear finds the world a pretty overwhelming place sometimes. Loud noises, lots of movement, bright lights: they become too much for him. For months, mama milk stayed his refuge. I handed off his brother to friends and cuddled him close on the floor of a gymnasium, or in the middle of a playdate. He nursed and calmed down and then got up to play again.

Yes, I nursed a toddler in public. It’s normal. It’s unremarkable, no matter how seldom we see it today. And no one asked me leave or told me to stop. If they shot me death glares, I didn’t notice. If I had, I wouldn’t have cared. Extended nursing might not be their choice. But I will not allow their discomfort to minimize or discredit mine.

Nursing has also taught Baby Bear some important rules about consent. A toddler doesn’t nurse like a newborn, and because he doesn’t have a nutritional need, I can say no if I want to. And sometimes, I don’t want touched again. I don’t let him nurse for too long — it can get uncomfortable, and I can’t let him drink all the milk if his brother will need it soon. Sometimes he’s okay with unlatching. Sometimes he gets mad, and I tell him that I understand he’s sad, but he can’t nurse if he throws fits, because it’s too upsetting for both of us. Most importantly, he nurses only once or twice a day, usually in the morning (always after breakfast) or mid-afternoon, post-lunch, pre-quiet-time.

So sometimes I say no.

Baby Bear has to accept this. Nursing a toddler is a relationship, and as the World Health Organization says, breastfeeding should continue “for as long as mother and child desire.” Both mother and child, not one or the other. A nursing relationship takes two.

And will I say no one day? Absolutely.

I weaned Baby Bear’s older brother at age three, when I became pregnant with my youngest. I picked a trip out of town, turned down requests for milk a few times, and that was that. I choose to be finished.

Extended breastfeeding has helped Baby Bear stay healthy and adjust to a changing family dynamic. It’s helped him feel loved. It was a choice I made: to use my body in the way I saw best for my child. Not every mother will make the same choice. Some know formula is right for them; some wean at one year. Their breasts, like mine, are their own. And as women, we can use them however we see fit.

I refuse to give my breasts to the male gaze. I refuse to bow to a one-size-fits-all, nurse-til-one-and-done world. For me, for now, for Baby Bear and his little brother, my breasts are for nurturing. I am happy with that decision. I love nursing my children, and I am grateful Baby Bear has benefited from extended nursing.

I have made my choice, and I will not be shamed.

Elizabeth Broadbent is a writer and mother. This story originally appeared on xoJane.com.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME women

Free the Nipple! The Problem With How We Think About Breasts

Rachel Kramer Bussel writes on sex, dating, books and pop culture.

Normalizing toplessness removes some of the cultural power over women's bodies and their sexuality

If nothing else, Free the Nipple, the new comedic drama directed by and co-starring Lina Esco, and the corresponding movement, is catchy. The film, shot in 2012 and released Friday, is based loosely on a true story and follows a group of fictional New York City activists intent on exercising their right to bare boobs. The movement, launched online by Esco, has drawn famous fans, including Miley Cyrus, Lena Dunham, Scout Willis and other celebrities; on Instagram, there are more than 54,000 posts hashtagged #freethenipple.

The film isn’t simply about nipples, but about equality and feminism, Esco told TIME. “Being topless is what we had to do start a real dialogue about equality. This is not about being topless; this about equality, it’s about having that choice. A lot of people are not informed about the equal pay thing. Women still get paid 78 cents for every dollar a man makes, but very few people know about this. But if there’s a group of girls running around topless all over the United States rallying for equal pay, then it would be making headline news, don’t you think?”

While it isn’t necessarily obvious how Free the Nipple can help women in the workplace, what is clear is that the rules in many states about where women can and can’t go bare chested are seriously out of date. In 1992, activists were successful in getting New York state to allow women to go topless. Free the Nipple claims that toplessness is legal in 13 states, though the organization Go Topless puts the number at 33. It can be a murky legal area, because even where it’s legal, women can and do still get arrested. Last year, New York City police were even given a memo reminding them of the letter of the law.

Free the Nipple is part of a larger mission to reclaim women’s bodies, sexuality, and safety at a time when all are under attack in various ways. To claim that women shouldn’t have the right to be topless when men do is to put the burden of women’s safety and society’s well-being on women’s breasts, as if the public is simply too delicate to handle seeing nipples. “It’s a culture that, in fact, beats into women and men the notion that female bodies are exclusively sexual, even when acting in ways that would be innocuous and permissible for men,” wrote Jessica Blankenship in response to a woman arrested for an outdoor nude art photo shoot. It has also inspired pointed albeit tongue-in-cheek projects like the TaTa Top, a bikini designed to give women the look and feel of being topless while still being technically clothed.

Breastfeeding is a separate but related issue where breasts have come under fire. But even defenses of breastfeeding in public or posting photos of breastfeeding expose the problematic assumptions that women’s breasts shouldn’t be seen. At a nurse-in to protest London department store Claridge, which had told a mother to cover up while breastfeeding, one woman carried a sign reading “That’s what breasts are for, stupid.” Except that’s not what all breasts are for. They’re for whatever a woman wants to do with them. We shouldn’t need to glorify breasts (or women) in order to respect them.

The fact is, it’s still shocking, not to mention gutsy, when a woman dares to walk down the street topless, even in a seemingly shockproof city like New York. When Scout Willis did it earlier this year, to protest Instagram’s banning of an image featuring a jacket adorned with a photo of two topless women, people noticed. As she wrote on xoJane, “What I am arguing for is a woman’s right to choose how she represents her body — and to make that choice based on personal desire and not a fear of how people will react to her or how society will judge her.”

The plot of Free the Nipple is thin and powered by its political message (The New York Times called it “the cinematic equivalent of a billboard”), but I applaud the characters, who, like Willis, expose themselves and own that exposure. They are using their bodies consciously and explicitly to advance a cause. There’s a difference between Willis striding confidently down the street or the film’s activists wearing masks and protesting in Times Square and the way breasts are often used in advertising.

I’ve spent several afternoons topless in various New York City venues with The Co-ed Topless Pulp Fiction Appreciation Society and found myself marveling at how delightful it felt to revel in the sun shining on my bare skin on a hot summer day. Theirs is a social, not political, group, but one whose simple actions can have a similar kind of effect to the Free the Nipple movement. By normalizing toplessness, we’re taking away some of the cultural power that dictates women’s breasts can only be sex symbols, which is the kind of thinking that leads to schools banning visible bra straps.

The right to be topless doesn’t have to be about a larger cause. The bare facts should be enough.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME

Watch Shonda Rhimes’ Amazing Speech on the ‘Glass Ceiling’

"When it was my turn to run," Rhimes said Wednesday, "It didn’t even look like a ceiling anymore."

Shonda Rhimes is a game-changer; there’s really no disputing the fact that she has made an immense impact the portrayals of women in Hollywood. But yesterday, as the executive producer behind some of primetime television’s most popular shows accepted the Sherry Lansing Leadership Award at The Hollywood Reporter’s annual Women in Entertainment breakfast, she said denied breaking any “glass ceilings.”

In her moving speech, Rhimes jokingly evoked Beyonce to explain why she couldn’t be getting an award simply because she is both a woman and African American.

I come from a very large, very competitive family. Extremely competitive. And by competitive, I mean, my mother says we’re not allowed to play Scrabble anymore when we get together because of the injuries and the tears. One of the rules in my family is you don’t ever get a trophy for participation, you don’t get a trophy for just being you. So getting an award today BECAUSE I’m a woman and an African-American feels…I was born with an awesome vagina and really gorgeous brown skin. I didn’t do anything to make either of those things happen.

To get all Beyonce about it, people: “I woke up like this.”

Rhimes said that the honor, which has also been bestowed upon powerhouses including Oprah Winfrey, Barbara Walters, Helen Mirren and Meryl Streep, was also being given to her because of the “glass ceiling that exists in the face of being a woman and being black in this very male, very white town.”

But in her mind, she hasn’t broken any glass ceilings at all. “When it was my turn to run,” Rhimes said Wednesday, “It didn’t even look like a ceiling anymore.”

How many women had to hit that glass before the first crack appeared? How many cuts did they get, how many bruises? How hard did they have to hit the ceiling? How many women had to hit that glass to ripple it, to send out a thousand hairline fractures? How many women had to hit that glass before the pressure of their effort caused it to evolve from a thick pane of glass into just a thin sheet of splintered ice?

She added, “Making it through the glass ceiling to the other side was simply a matter of running on a path created by every other woman’s footprints. I just hit at exactly the right time in exactly the right spot.”

Rhimes’ speech appears in full on Medium under the title “On Ceilings Made of Glass.” Watch her deliver the speech at Wednesday’s event below.

TIME feminism

I’m So Glad Movember Is Over

Groucho marx glasses
Getty Images

If facial hair is so amazing as to dedicate a whole month to celebrating it, I want in on some of that action

xojane

This story originally appeared on xoJane.com.

Dudes, did you participate in Movember? What did you grow? Had you ever grown facial hair before? Did you shave it off after? C’mon, I’m on the edge of my seat, I want all the details. Except, I don’t. I’m actually kind of sick of hearing all about men’s facial hair.

Look, I love everything about the cultural swing toward more facial hair on men. It looks sexy, it’s usually less time-consuming and less expensive to maintain than a shaved face, it flies right in the face of some modern mainstream beauty ideals, and it’s a little easier on the environment. Plus, hey, I have a bias toward more variety in physical appearance. I like your beards – from the George Michael to the ZZ Top. I like your goatees. I like your moustaches – from plush Burt Reynolds push-brooms to high-maintenance hipster handlebars. Sometimes, I even like your ironic mutton chops. (But not your soul patch; soul patches are the rum raisin of facial hair.)

But start a soothing stroke along your scruffy cheek or chin (if you haven’t shaved it yet), because here’s where I ruin it for you. I don’t mean to metaphorically kick you in your probably-also-Movember-worthy nutsack, but I need you to think about some stuff that probably got lost somewhere between when you were torn between choosing a technologically marvelous beard trimmer or a très retro boar bristle brush ‘n mug combo.

Movember is full of problematic and complex socio-cultural ideas that get little attention in any discussion about it, lost like so many freshly-clipped hairs swirling down the drain of the bathroom sink.

Here are three big reasons I’m officially over Movember:

1) It’s very nostalgia-invoking (which is not as harmless as it sounds)

Ah, the good old days. Lumberjacks, sailors, Ernest Hemingway. You know, when “men were men.” The problem with nostalgia is that it dangerously erases what was bad and harmful about the past. It ctrl-alt-deletes right over everything that was wrong “back in the day.”

For example, when “men were men,” (i.e. when we as a society adhered more rigidly to gender-essentialist norms) it was more acceptable for husbands to beat wives, it was more acceptable for a male boss to expect sexual favors from a female secretary, it was more acceptable to pay a man more for doing the same job as a woman. It was also more acceptable for grade school boys to physically bully each other. Meanwhile, it was less acceptable for men to pursue careers in nursing or teaching.

In glorifying the “good old days,” you are essentially saying the world was better when marginalized people had it worse. As a sometimes-marginalized-person, it feels lousy to hear someone talk lovingly about an era when I would have had to choose between lying/hiding the fact that I’m queer, or face real legal, life-or-death consequences. It’s totally OK to feel love for parts of the past, but you have to accept the complexity and reality of the past. When “men were men” and sailed great distances to make a living, some of those sailors were also part of the triangle trade.

The history and evolution of male facial hair is fascinating and absolutely worth reading, writing and talking about. At the same time, it doesn’t stand apart from history. As Billy Joel has taught us, “the good old days weren’t always good.” Remember all of this when you are moustache-waxing poetic about the golden age of facial hair to someone who might not have had it so great in the 1890s.

2) It re-enforces gender-based appearance norms (that I find annoying and inconvenient)

Beards are natural. Real. Authentic and timeless. If you dig deep back into your high school biology memory bank, you’ll recall that one of the anatomical features that distinguishes us mammals from all other classes is that we grow hair all over our bodies (also some middle ear bones, mammary glands, and a neocortex, but who’s counting?).

In this regard, some of us are class-ier than others, right? I mean, I’m definitely some kind of super-mammal (and I haven’t even been struck by lightning, touched anything radioactive, or had any other super-power-forming experience.)

So, body hair – including facial hair – is part of our mammalian birthright. Except when it isn’t. Please take a moment for a simple addition problem: count how many times you saw hair on the face (no, eyebrows and eyelashes do not count), legs, armpits – essentially anywhere not on the head – on a woman in the month of November. Second addition exercise: same addition problem but count up the men you encountered in November with hair in those locations. Moving on to subtraction: subtract the second number from the first. If you live in the United States and you don’t have a negative number, I will buy you your own yacht, complete with a tastelessly misogynistic moniker plastered on the back.

If body hair is so natural, so essential to being a mammal, why do some of us feel significantly more comfortable existing in more natural states than others? The reality is that in the U.S., there is enormous pressure on women to remove or reduce visible, non-cranial-covering body hair. Removing body hair takes time, energy, and money – all things that most women could stand to have more of, not less.

Sure, some guys take flak for having a back that’s “too hairy,” or pluck out from under a unibrow, or wax something (or somethings). I get it, you are not immune to the pressures of our appearance-based culture. At the same time, some of these more modern manscaping grooming habits come under scrutiny as emasculating. They peg manscapers as being “too much like women” (which is supposed to be an insult, right?).

The mere fact that we have added words like “manscaping” and “metrosexual” to our lexicon means that they are marked as different, unexpected from the norm. Another way to say this is to ask what you call a woman who removes or reduces any body hair. Well, what do you call her? Stumped. We don’t have a special word for a woman who removes or reduces body hair because it’s “just what women do,” right?

Essentially, you get to have it both ways. If you want to remove some body hair, you can be seen as “taking care of yourself.” If you want to eschew a blade forever, you can cast aspersions on the shavers with complete impunity – or even with some admiration for your gender-essentialist curmudgeonliness (think of Ron Swanson on Parks and Rec). The fact that some assholes in high school made it really unappealing to take off your shirt at the beach does not erase that hairy is the default expectation for men.

It’s worth taking a moment to consider why hairless is the default expected appearance for women. Even in the midst of perpetual peril.

3) It silences and erases the reality of women with facial hair (or, when will I get MY month of facial hair celebration?)

I hate to break the well-plucked wall of secrecy on this but, guys, women have facial hair. It’s not just Agatha Fratelli from The Goonies. It’s called hirsutism and it means “excessive hair growth.” Basically, how your hair follicles respond to testosterone (not necessarily the level of testosterone in your body) determines your overall outward hairiness. It’s people like me. And, it can be treated! Wait, what?

When we talk about hirsutism, we are talking about a benign, cosmetic abnormality. Historically, we have a bias toward “correcting” benign, cosmetic abnormalities for the sake of feeling more comfortable or safer out in the world; it is easier to change our own appearance than to expect acceptance from the rest of the world. Take a minute to let that one sink in.

There are numerous drugs available to “treat” hirsuitism; you can ingest or apply any number of drugs to “correct” something that is a totally harmless genetic attribute. If this doesn’t seem weird to you, consider a world where it was normal to chop off a few centimeters of toe to “correct” Morton’s Toe, another harmless genetic abnormality (abnormal because it only occurs in about 10% of the population).

In a minority of cases, these drugs aren’t used to counter hirsutism; they’re used as part of a treatment plan for transgender women. I am not going to dismiss or downplay the importance of passing in a transphobic society, but suffice to say, in an ideal world, a transgender woman with facial hair would face the same level of discrimination as a non-transgender woman: none.

But this goes back to everything I brought up earlier: body hair, including facial hair is not generally accepted as normal for women. We are reminded of this regularly. From Harnaam Kaur (the 20-something Sikh woman who was “caught” at the airport by a surreptitious photographer) to the RA who encouraged residents to engage in a no-shave November (and in doing so was labeled as a “weird feminist”). While some of these stories push the narrative toward the story that body hair is normal, I still don’t feel comfortable going out into the world like this.

As if being a hairy, lady-identified individual didn’t cause me enough stress, I also have alopecia areata. This means I have random bald patches that spring up. Depending on the body location – too much hair is not-OK and hairlessness is also not-OK. And even though there are drugs, creams, lotions, shampoos, and surgical procedures to “correct” naturally-occurring baldness in men (implying that baldness is not OK), consider difference in response to a bald man vs. a hairy-legged woman. Consider that there is a counter-narrative of virility and sex appeal for bald men to lean on to remind them that they are accepted by society as-is.

In short, there is too much to ‘splain, so let me sum up: it is utterly frustrating and rage-inducing to watch mainstream media spend a month celebrating widely-accepted-and-considered-normal facial hair on men while saying, at best, nothing about women’s facial hair and, at worst, “Eww, gross.” If facial hair is so amazing as to dedicate a whole month to celebrating it, I want in on some of that action.

OK, are your eyebrows furrowed in some righteous sense of injustice? Wanna know what can you do?

Great. I’m so glad you are open to thinking about how you can cultivate your facial follicular garden and help everyone else who is not similarly encouraged. Those aren’t mutually exclusive activities! I am excited to have you on board as an ally.

First, don’t judge women by the choices we make about our body hair. If body hair on women isn’t your thing, that’s OK (but also, maybe do some reflecting on how you came to have that preference; it’s an active, not a neutral preference).

In the non-vanilla sex world, there’s a saying: “not my kink.” It’s a short-hand way to say, “I don’t particularly care to do that but I am also simultaneously capable of not judging the fact that you like to do that.” That’s easy, that one’s all in your head. If you see a really attractive-to-you woman take a long stretch, revealing her hairy armpits, can you work through the process of seeing it as a choice she made rather than, “Eww gross?”

Leveling up, can you call out other people for judging women with body hair? When you hear “Eww gross,” can you challenge Judgy McJudgerson to see body hair as a choice as if all choices are valid regardless of whether or not they’re personally appealing to you?

When I was younger, if I saw totally-freaky-to-me-weirdo my reaction was, “Eww, what a weirdo.” Now, my response is, “Thanks pal. Every visible, unapologetic weirdo makes the world safer for weirdos.” As a visible, unapologetic weirdo myself, I am invested in a safer world for weirdos and therefore thankful for other visible, unapologetic weirdos going about their daily business in the midst of non-weirdos.

The point is, I think even Judgy wants to be able to go to class in yoga pants and Uggs sometimes without experiencing ego-eroding derision.

Last, let’s say you prefer body hair on women. Let’s say it’s a total turn-on for you. Own it. Don’t be afraid to express that preference if you’re asked or if it comes up in conversation. Respond to that “eww gross” with “Actually, I think leg hair on women is pretty sexy.” Don’t be that guy in high school with a “secret girlfriend.”

My gram used to say “That goes to show ya, there’s a club for everyone.” It’s OK to be in the club of people who prefer some amount of body hair on women. I assure you plenty of other people are walking around with membership cards tucked into their wallets.

Anyway, I’m dying to get this conversation started. More than anything I want to be talking about gender and body hair instead of carrying on like nothing’s going on under the surface. Do your gender identity and level of body hair collide? Do you feel like they match? Should body hair be a gender marker? If you are female-identified, what’s your body hair level like? Are you comfortable with it? If your sexual preference includes female-identified partners, do you have a body hair preference on partners? How are we going to include people of all genders in Movember next year? LET’S TALK ABOUT IT!

* Yes, I realize that my generalizations about society and culture are specifically rooted in the United States, current day. Yes, I am aware that there are other parts of the world and other times in human history with different stories to tell about women and body hair.

Amy Mendosa wrote this story for xoJane.com.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME

Banning Uber Won’t Make Delhi Women Any Safer, And It Could Make Things Worse

Decreasing access to alternative transportation is a short-term solution to the idea of masculinity that contributes to India's epidemic of sexual assault

Uber is not having a good month. As if various already swirling controversies weren’t enough, last Sunday an Uber driver in Delhi was arrested two days after allegedly picking up a 26-year-old woman who booked a ride, taking her to a secluded area, and raping her. Delhi authorities have since banned Uber for not conducting adequate background checks on their drivers and not adhering to licensing rules. They have also banned all other app-based cab service providers in Delhi.

This is commendably a swift and decisive action, especially in a city and country under high pressure and bright spotlights when it comes to such attacks on women. But banning Uber and other app-based cab services hardly means the problem is solved. In reality, it’s a quick fix—one that could even make matters worse by limiting the options available to women who already feel under siege.

According to a recent Safe Cities Delhi Programme report based on research conducted by the International Center for Research on Women, 92% of Delhi’s women have experienced some form of sexual violence in public spaces in their lifetime. This is the problem. Of course, Uber needs to improve its own operations in countless ways, starting with improved screening and background checks, and should be held accountable for the actions of its drivers. But Uber did not cause this problem. Uber is just one of the many places and spaces in which violence against women presents itself. The problem is men who sexually harass and assault women. The problem is current concepts of masculinity that lead to the impunity and tolerance underlying the epidemic of sexual harassment and rape of women in public spaces. And for this problem to be adequately addressed, the government needs to create and implement a comprehensive set of measures that has zero tolerance for sexual harassment and sexual assault of women.

The quick decision to ban Uber is important in that it sends a message to all companies operating in this space that they need to follow regulations with seriousness. However, it is already unsafe for women to get around in Delhi. The metro has separate compartments for women—but what do they do when they step off the train? That’s partly why Uber and other private cab companies are in demand in the first place. Decreasing access to multiple modes of alternative transportation for women is a short-term and limited solution. Rather than further limiting the options available to women, how about increasing women’s safety not only by enforcing regulations and providing safer modes of operation, but by also increasing the number of men who hold themselves and others accountable for their behavior and actions?

That’s where we could shine a light back on Uber. Last month, when a journalist accused Uber of “sexism and misogyny,” a senior executive reportedly suggested launching a personal smear campaign against her; he also reportedly said at a party that taxi drivers are far more likely to assaulted women than Uber drivers. Those are not comments made by someone who is holding himself or his company, or his company culture, accountable. The rape in Delhi provides an opportunity for Uber, and other business owners, to step up and talk about how they will use their positions to stand for safety and equality. This is a chance for all companies to be part of the solution in making violence against women unacceptable.

We need to address sexual harassment, rape, and all forms of violence against women by demanding accountability from our institutions, our communities, and our peers. Arresting one man, banning one company in one city, and calling the problem solved is simply not enough. The government needs to provide, increase, and ensure safety measures for all transportation companies. Beyond that, the government needs to provide, increase, and ensure ways for women to move around safely in the first place.

Now let’s look at culture change and mindset. In its newest baseline measures of sexual harassment, Breakthrough, a human rights organization, reports that up to 98% of women and girls say they don’t feel completely safe in public areas[link to this report?]. This means only 2% of women feel safe at all. We need 100% of women to feel 100% safe. This will take more than banning a company or deleting an app. This will take more than the death sentence meted out to the men who raped and killed Jyothi in the now infamous Delhi gang rape two years ago. The best deterrent to sexual harassment and rape is culture change: bold, steady, and persistent challenges to the norms and biases that enable and excuse violence against women.

There is some movement in the right direction. Some 40,000 rickshaw drivers have received training on women’s safety and display stickers on their rickshaw saying, “This responsible rickshaw respects and protects women.” That’s not just a practical response; that’s a public statement for women’s rights.

And recent protests in New Delhi in support of the rape survivor show that people are taking and demanding concrete action and accountability. Indeed—especially since the Delhi gang rape—more and more men and boys have been standing with women to call for change.

We need even more. We need to dismantle the biases that blame or hold women responsible for the dangers they encounter. We need to make violence and discrimination against women socially and culturally unacceptable, in India and beyond—not just in the spectacular cases with seemingly easy solutions, but in our everyday lives, streets, and interactions. When women are truly safe, we will all get where we need to go.

Mallika Dutt is president and CEO of Breakthrough, a global human rights organization based in India and the U.S. that works to make violence and discrimination against women and girls unacceptable.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: December 9

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. Foreign policy isn’t public relations. The value of releasing the torture report outweighs the risks.

By Daniel Larison in the American Conservative

2. Innovation in design — not technology — might be the key to disrupting industries.

By Todd Olson in Medium

3. The simple notion of community potlucks is working to rebuild the torn fabric of Ferguson.

By Shereen Marisol Meraji at National Public Radio

4. A new poverty alleviation strategy is built on feedback and direction from the actual beneficiaries — putting people at the center of policy.

By Molly M. Scott in RealClearPolicy

5. Women are uniquely positioned to understand the impact of climate change around the world. They must have a seat at the table to set global policy.

By Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka in the Aspen Journal of Ideas

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser