TIME Opinion

The Problem With Dolce and Gabbana’s Motherhood-Themed Runway Show

Dolce & Gabbana - Runway RTW - Fall 2015 - Milan Fashion Week
Catwalking/Getty Images Models walk the runway at the Dolce & Gabbana Autumn Winter 2015 fashion show during Milan Fashion Week on March 1, 2015 in Milan, Italy.

The designers' Milan Fashion Week show celebrated mothers — but not in the way our culture needs

Mother’s Day arrived early this year in Italy, where Milan Fashion Week is currently taking place. Sunday’s Dolce and Gabbana show, named “Viva la mamma!,” was entirely dedicated to celebrating motherhood. A handful of models walked the runway with their children and babies, while “Mama” by the Spice Girls played. Model Bianca Balti, heavily pregnant with her second child, even walked in the show. Designers Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana have said the show was an homage to their own mothers.

The collection on display matched the mother-loving theme: ultra-feminine shapes — think full skirts and cinched waists — with loads of lace and florals. Many of the garments were emblazoned with the word “Mamma” or had children’s drawings printed across them, in the same vein as Angelina Jolie’s wedding veil.

It’s hard to deny the actual collection is stunning, but the idea of the show itself left me cold. Celebrating motherhood is all well and good, but this display was an entirely shallow endorsement of women that smacks of a gimmick. The theme might be sweet and largely inoffensive — after all, who doesn’t love moms? — but it also stuck to a particularly narrow definition of mothers. In D&G’s world, motherhood is the most limiting archetype of all, where women are radiant and impossibly beautiful, but not truly sexual.

Of course, it was nice to see a shape on the runway that falls outside the runway norm and isn’t pin-thin. One of the most justified and enduring criticisms of the fashion world is its reliance on ultra thin and, in some cases, unhealthy bodies. So props to Dolce and Gabbana, who asked Balti, clad in a form-fitting pink dress, to walk the runway. Alas, Balti was the only one on the runway who offered anything different, size-wise. (And, as others have pointed out, the models were mostly caucasian.) The rest of the models — even the new mothers — shared the typical model dimensions we’ve come to expect from fashion week.

But there’s a destructive side to flashily incorporating mothers-to-be and new mothers in a fashion show. In many ways our culture fetishizes mothers — and pregnancy — and the fashion and beauty industries are no different. Many women’s magazines and fashion websites have dedicated plenty of space to cataloging pregnant celebrities and their growing “bumps.” The very same publications devote even more attention to those women’s bodies after they give birth, either celebrating the return of a “pre-baby body” or tracking the struggle to bounce back to a so-called ideal.

Unfortunately, much of our culture’s focus on new motherhood and pregnancy ends up revolving around women’s bodies and how they look. That context is hard to separate in a fashion show — which displays women’s clothing on women’s bodies — that also tries to honor motherhood, no matter how well-intentioned.

Read next: World’s Most Famous Baby Photographer on the Power of Motherhood

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TIME politics

Here’s What Barbara Mikulski Told People Who Said She Didn’t Look Like a Senator

Barbara A. Mikulski
Terry Ashe—The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski speaking during a Senate Labor Committee hearing in 1987

In her winning 1986 campaign, the Maryland Democrat spoke out against 'code words' that held people back

When Barbara Mikulski — the 78-year-old Maryland Democrat and longest serving woman in Congress, who announced Monday that she will retire in 2016 — ran for Senate in 1986, some people told her she didn’t look like a Senator.

Though she had already spent a decade in Congress, and though she had gotten her start as a community organizer and councilwoman in Baltimore, and though her run for Senate was one of three national contests that year in which both major candidates were women, gender and appearance still played into coverage of the race.

But, as Mikulski made clear, conversation about whether she or any of the other female candidates looked like voters’ ideas of what a politician should be was just a way to keep that image from changing. As TIME wrote then:

In Maryland, Mikulski and [Republican nominee Linda Chavez] are waging tough, no-holds-barred campaigns. Although both women come from ethnic, working-class backgrounds, “we are as different as two people can be,” says Chavez, 39, a cool Hispanic American who is married and makes much of being the mother of three sons. Mikulski, 50, is single, a self-styled scrapper with the sturdy perseverance of a tugboat. She sharply turns aside comments that she does not “look senatorial.” Says the candidate: “A lot of Americans, black or white or female, are always told that they don’t look the part. It’s one of the oldest code words.”

Mikulski won and became the first female Democrat to hold a seat in the Senate not previously held by her husband. As TIME put it back then, she had abandoned “petticoat politics” — an appropriate tactic for the woman who brought the pantsuit to the Senate.

Read the full 1986 story, here in the TIME Vault: No More Petticoat Politics

Read next: How Barb Mikulski Paved the Way for Hillary Clinton’s Pantsuits

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MONEY Love and Money

What Fifty Shades Gets Wrong About Money and Sex

FIFTY SHADES OF GREY
Chuck Zlotnick—Focus Features/Courtesy Everett Collection

The hit novel turned film suggests wealth makes men sexy to women. That's misleading.

Does money make men more attractive to women? On the surface, both popular culture and social science research seem to say yes.

You can’t take a step into the academic literature without tripping over a study showing that women place higher value than men on a partner’s wealth, that women are more attracted to men with nice cars, or that women orgasm more with rich partners.

The standard social science explanation for this phenomenon gets expressed in evolutionary terms: Because impregnating as many women as possible gives a man’s genes an evolutionary advantage, men are more superficial and promiscuous. Conversely, because of the time and energy required for a single pregnancy, women are choosier and more preoccupied with finding a mate rich with resources to provide for offspring. Or, at least, that’s the theory.

The success of the Fifty Shades of Grey franchise certainly does little to dispel all this. The story—for those living under a rock—details the sexual awakening of a young woman seduced by a billionaire, whose physical attractiveness is matched only by his fleet of luxury cars, helicopter, penthouse apartment, and cushy CEO job running his own company. In other words, as author E.L. James has put it, Christian Grey is “every woman’s dream.”

“He’s very good looking, he’s very good at sex, he’s disgustingly rich,” she told TIME.

To be fair, it’s intuitive that a partner with means is more desirable than one without, all else being equal. A recent poll found that 78% of coupled Americans of both sexes say they’d prefer a partner who is good with money over one who’s physically attractive. And if you are a man who feels pressure to impress women with your money, or a woman who felt titillated reading about Christian Grey’s alpha status, you probably buy into the theory without even realizing it.

But as it turns out, this popular narrative about men, women, sex, and money isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

A recent study has found that the common depiction of women primarily seeking out rich and powerful men (and men seeking out young and attractive women) is fairly uncommon in practice and—crucially—doesn’t reflect the reality of successful relationships or what actually makes people happy.

The research, by University of Notre Dame sociologist Elizabeth McClintock, has found that gender differences more or less disappear when you discard self-reported attraction scores and instead examine how real couples pursue one another, date, and settle down. In reality, rich women are just as likely as rich men to use their status to snag a more-attractive mate. And across the board, relationships in which people are essentially trading status for sex tend to be uncommon and short-lived.

Instead, McClintock found that the biggest force that predicts a successful match between people is actually how well all of your qualities match up. That means, for example, that people of similar physical appeal tend to pair off, and those with comparable educations and financial means are drawn together.

What’s perhaps counterintuitive, then, is that a woman seeking a rich man is actually better off getting herself a raise than a makeover. Likewise, a man seeking an attractive lady will see higher returns investing in a gym membership than a brokerage account.

So why does the tale of the rich, experienced man seducing the pretty ingenue persist in popular imagination, not to mention the academic literature? McClintock found that many existing studies took for granted the very gender roles they were supposed to be measuring, examining only women’s attractiveness and men’s status or money, while ignoring men’s appearance and the wealth and education of women.

As Northwestern University psychologist Eli Finkel told New York magazine: “Scientists are humans, too, and we can be inadvertently blinded by beliefs about how the world works.”

Indeed, we’re all better off disposing of our blindfolds—even if they’re made of the finest satin.

 

TIME career

6 Reasons Professional Partnerships Are Powerful for Women

two-female-coworkers
Getty Images

Female partnerships are an underutilized and effective tool

I’ll ask you the same question Betsy Polk and Maggie Ellis Chotas ask readers at the beginning of their book: Who comes to mind when you think of male partnerships? Surely you’ll think of successful duos like Ben and Jerry, Lewis and Clark, Penn and Teller, Watson and Crick, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, Matt Stone and Trey Parker, the list goes on and on.

But what about famous female partnerships? Personally I can come up with Amy Poehler and Tina Fey, Mary Kate and Ashley, Abbi Jacobsen and Ilana Glazer from Broad City, and….I’m out. In Power Through Partnership: How Women Lead Better Together, Polk and Chotas investigate the lack of female power duos, and demolish many of the myths that keep women from going into business together. Drawing from their own 12-year partnership and interviews with 125 female business partners, Polk and Chotas prove that women can and do work together successfully. Female partnerships, in fact, are an underutilized and effective tool for female power. Here’s why.

1. Flexibility

Considering that 66 percent of family caregivers are female, most women need workplace flexibility in a unique way. “Whether it’s balancing a job share, adjusting dynamics in a client meeting, or filling in for each other when a sick child is at home, women in partnership know how to step up or step back depending on what’s needed in the moment,” Polk and Chotas write.

2. Confidence

As experienced leadership coaches, Polk and Chotas have studied self-doubt and the dreaded imposter syndrome up close, and know that they tend to affect women more deeply than their male counterparts. They think that female partnership can be the antidote: “When you say yes to combining your skills with those of a respected peer, you need to first acknowledge that you’re bringing valuable skills and perspectives to the partnership: after all, your partner is choosing you for good reasons.” Even by deciding to partner, you’re beginning to build confidence.

3. Freedom

By this, Polk and Chotas mean the freedom that comes from being allowed to bring all aspects of yourself to work. By partnering with a woman, there’s less pressure to act a certain way: namely, not too harsh that you’re at risk of being called a B, but not too emotional, God forbid. You can simply be yourself.

4. Support

“Support, the secret sauce of partnership, is often difficult to ask for,” Pol and Chotas write. “This can be especially true for women, who may feel that by needing to ask for help, they are falling short of the giant expectations they’ve set for themselves.” Sound familiar? Me too. “But the beauty of a partnership is that reciprocal support must exist for the partnership to work. Partners know that to achieve their goals, they must be there for each other, each of them giving and receiving support.”

5. Mutual Accountability

The only way I ever started a project early in school was if I had a friend depending on me: wanting to work on it together, asking me for help, or otherwise motivating me to get going. Partnership means having that accountability to fall back on when you don’t feel like doing something or are simply tired. You may not do it for yourself, but you’re certainly not going to let your partner down.

6. Happiness

It’s so heartening to read that one of the most consistently cited benefits of partnership is the happiness that comes from the partners’ personal relationship. “We’ve found in our interviews that it’s the relationship at the center of women’s collaborations that makes them tick,” Polk and Chotas write. “When the connection between the partners is healthy, the overall entity is healthy; and when the relationship is suffering, results often suffer as well. Generally speaking, the same is not true for male partners, who tend to measure success by revenue and results.”

Convinced that female partnership works? Pick up a copy of Power Through Partnership for more fascinating information on finding the right partner, preparing for risk, dealing with conflict, and most importantly, to watch Polk and Chotas destroy those ridiculous myths about women working together.

This article originally appeared on Levo.com.

TIME career

IMF Chief Christine Lagarde: Female Equality Laws Are Good For the Economy

BELGIUM-GREECE-EU-EUROGROUP-FINANCE
JOHN THYS—AFP/Getty Images International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde gives a joint press after an Eurogroup Council meeting on February 20, 2015 at EU Headquarters in Brussels. ( JOHN THYS--AFP/Getty Images)

Notes GDPs would increase dramatically if laws changed to make it easier for women to work

International Monetary Fund Chief Christine Lagarde has some good news for economies in the developing world: in one step, they can boost their GDPs up by up to 30 percent. All they have to do is let women into the workforce.

In an article posted Monday on the IMF’s blog, Lagarde discusses a new study that found that over 90% of countries worldwide have some kind of legal restrictions that keep women from working, getting loans, or owning property. Women make up 40% of the global workforce, but in some regions they’re vastly underrepresented– only 21% of women in the Middle East and North Africa work outside the home.

Lagarde says that fixing the laws that keep women from fully participating in the economy could boost GDPs– by a lot. Getting women equally represented int the workforce would amount to a 9% increase in Japan’s GDP, a 12% increase in the United Arab Emirates, and a 34% increase in Egypt. In the US, our GDP would increase by 5% if we made it easier for women to participate in the economy.

Changing the laws is only the first step– Lagarde also notes that childcare and maternity leave benefits also play a major role in whether and how women work outside the home. Currently, the US is one of few developed countries that offers no guaranteed maternity leave, and the IMF study found that in 2009, the U.S. spent only 1.2% of our GDP on family benefits– less than any other developed country. Oh great.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: February 24

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

1. For some returning from war, a ‘G.I. bill for farming’ eases the transition home.

By Abby Wendle at Harvest Public Media

2. In Egypt, a class project to fight sexual harassment has grown into a campus-wide movement encouraging women to “Speak Up.”

By Ahmed Fouad in Al-Monitor

3. Your kid’s school is missing the tech revolution, and it’s all your fault.

By Jason Tanz in Wired

4. Community courts focus on rehabilitation and compassion for non-violent offenders.

By Henry Gass in the Christian Science Monitor

5. A new ‘Uber for packages’ service is partnering with Waffle House to build a network of delivery points around the south.

By Amar Toor in the Verge

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.

MONEY Oscars

Patricia Arquette Wants You to Get a Raise — Here’s How to Make It Happen

The Oscar winner gave a shout-out to American women—and called for fair pay regardless of sex.

An exciting moment for many Oscar viewers on Sunday was Patricia Arquette’s Best Supporting Actress acceptance speech for her role as the protagonist’s mother in the film Boyhood.

“To every woman who gave birth, to every taxpayer and citizen of this nation, we have fought for everybody else’s equal rights,” Arquette said. “It is our time to have wage equality once and for all, and equal rights for women in the United States of America!”

Those words, which drew cheers from fellow actresses Meryl Streep and Jennifer Lopez, reflect growing tensions in Hollywood over the way women in the industry are represented and compensated. Not only do actresses have fewer roles available to them than men—only 30% of speaking characters—but they are paid less across the board. Even Academy Award-winning women face a huge pay gap: They get an extra $500,000 on average tacked on to their salary after winning an Oscar, compared with a $3.9 million bump for men.

Of course, pay discrimination is not limited to La-La Land. Women still make only 78¢ for every dollar a man makes, the Census reports, and that’s true across all wage levels, for everyone from truck drivers to top executives.

If you’re frustrated by your salary (or the pay earned by a woman in your life) and Arquette’s words resonated with you, here are some ways to change things right now.

1. Talk to a man whose job you want

A recent study found that women tend to express satisfaction with low pay because they compare themselves with female peers, and therefore never get a full picture of how underpaid they are relative to men.

Finding a male mentor in a position a notch or three above you can be a huge asset for many reasons, but one of the biggest is that he can give you an unbiased idea of what salary you should be asking for when you seek a promotion or new job.

2. Don’t say “yes” without making a counteroffer

Whether because of social expectations or a hesitation to appear too aggressive (a fear that is not unfounded given proven workplace biases), women are less likely to negotiate than men. One study revealed that only 31% of women countered the salary offer for their first job after grad school, versus 50% of men.

When you are asking for a raise or naming your salary expectations for a new job, it helps to come prepared. You’ll want to be ready with a clear description of your successes and how you have added value in your current position. And you should have an exact dollar figure in mind; research shows negotiating with a specific number makes you sound more authoritative than using a ballpark one.

If you get a resounding “no,” don’t just give up: Consider asking for a one-time bonus instead.

3. Become a mentor

It’s obvious advice to seek out strong mentors to get ahead at work. But taking subordinates under your wing can be just as effective for increasing your status.

Wharton professor Adam Grant has shown that women and men alike tend to be most successful when they balance both giving and taking at work. And women in particular can get a leg up as negotiators when they are in a mentor position, Grant found.

When the higher ups see you as a person who gives a lot and supports the people around you, it’s easier for you to take a little back—in the form of higher pay.

 

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: February 23

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

1. The propaganda war against ISIS doesn’t tell us anything about the real fight.

By Paul Waldman in the Week

2. Programs supporting women-owned small businesses will boost the economy.

By Claudia Viek at the American Sustainable Business Council

3. System-wide disruption — including a new medical school admissions test — is remaking medical education.

By Melinda Beck in Wall Street Journal

4. Prison reform could unleash resourcefulness and hustle currently behind bars. The tech sector should get on board.

By Baratunde Thurston in Fast Company

5. The first power plant powered by ocean waves is officially online.

By Kaleigh Rogers in Motherboard from Vice

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.

TIME Family

After Having Three Miscarriages, I’m Pregnant Again

xoJane.com is where women go to be their unabashed selves, and where their unabashed selves are applauded

How do you emotionally prepare to lose a pregnancy, and at the same time prepare to keep it?

xojane

Throughout my early twenties, when anyone (usually my mother) asked whether I wanted kids someday, my attitude fell somewhere between ambivalence and outright disinterest.

Then, one breezy October morning, that changed in an instant, like a switch had been flipped. It was a Saturday, and my would-be husband and I were taking a walk after eating breakfast at our favorite Manhattan diner. It was a handful of days before Halloween, and there were all these little kids dressed in the costumes that they couldn’t wait to wear. There was one toddler in a fireman outfit, and it just killed me with cuteness. I WANTED ONE.

My ovaries betrayed me, and from that day on I became a touch obsessed (understatement) with pregnancy and babies.

Fast-forward through a few years of neurotic baby-planning and menstrual cycle-tracking in Excel spreadsheets, getting married, and a move from New York to Chicago — I was 27 years old, right on time according to my perfectly optimized reproduction schedule, and my husband and I were finally ready.

I became pregnant in our first month of trying, which was a surprise since all of the literature tells you not to expect immediate results. We were as happy and nervous as you’d expect any couple to be during the beginning of a first pregnancy. (Technically this was my second time getting pregnant, but the first time I had an abortion, and the differences in experiencing a wanted versus an unwanted pregnancy are so huge that, for the sake of this story, I’m going to treat my first intentional pregnancy as my first pregnancy.)

Starting around six weeks, my morning sickness became intense. I woke up every day dry heaving, and if I wasn’t constantly forcing snacks into my face (so much hummus!), I’d be throwing up within the hour. It was barely manageable. I was exhausted.

At eight weeks we saw a heartbeat on our first ultrasound, and I had no doubts that my sickness was worth it — the risk of miscarriage drops significantly once you’ve seen a heartbeat. Up to this point everything seemed normal.

Around nine weeks I had a little spotting. I was assured I shouldn’t worry about it since it was light, temporary, and painless — first trimester spotting is common. Around 10 and a half weeks, at another doctor’s appointment, the heartbeat was a bit slow, though not that abnormal, so we scheduled a follow up visit for a week later. At 11 weeks and five days, we went in for another ultrasound and there was no heartbeat. The fetus had died.

This was a “missed miscarriage,” meaning I never had any bleeding or pain to signal that something was wrong. I scheduled the procedure for the following day, and after it was done I felt as awful as I’ve ever felt in my life — utterly empty and weak. I’d followed every pregnancy recommendation, taken every precaution, and we still don’t know what went wrong. We probably never will.

The healing process involved me being a hermit for a few weeks, refusing to leave the apartment unless I absolutely had to. My husband did his best to console me with all the pad thai and bacon pineapple pizza a girl can eat. I listened to a lot of Björk (she can get you through anything, I swear), and watched all of Netflix’s sappiest offerings. I cried and cried and cried.

Friends did their best to support me, and I felt loved, but it was hard to accept their help. The hospital encouraged me to join their miscarriage support group, but I didn’t. The unflattering truth is, I didn’t want to hear about anyone else’s problems, even if they were similar to my own. In a way, I think I wanted to feel special and unique in my suffering.

My best friend dragged me away to a vacation on the lake, and that helped.

Slowly, I felt better. Maybe we should have waited longer, but after a cycle had passed I felt ready to try again, and I got pregnant right away.

At six weeks, I miscarried again. Unlike the first time, I knew what was happening when it started. The blood and cramping weren’t all that severe, but this clearly wasn’t just a little light spotting.

At this point, while it obviously sucked what I was going through, it wasn’t necessarily a cause to assume something was wrong with me — repeated miscarriages aren’t medically considered worth investigating until you hit the third one in a row. My healing process this time was essentially the same as the last. Tending to my little deck garden became a particularly soothing outlet for me. We waited a cycle, and I was eager to get back on the horse.

For a third time, I got pregnant in our first month of trying. Just call me Fertile Myrtle. This one went almost identically to the second pregnancy, ending in a miscarriage in the sixth week. The difference now was that it was time to run medical tests, looking for all kinds of horrifying conditions that I shouldn’t have Googled while waiting for the results.

Every test came back negative, which was both good and bad. On the one hand, it’s good to know I don’t have any major life-changing medical problems (at least nothing they found), and on the other, we still have no answers. I lost three pregnancies, and I have no idea why.

After the third miscarriage, we waited longer to try again, but I still got pregnant on our first go — Fertile Myrtle strikes again! As I write this, I’m eight weeks and one day into yet another pregnancy. We had an ultrasound appointment yesterday, and we were able to see the heartbeat.

My doctor said that everything looks normal, and I wish I felt more reassured, but I’m still worried. Every day that passes raises the stakes. Every time I pee I’m paranoid, checking the toilet for blood. I love to think about baby names, but I tell myself I shouldn’t. I’m trying my hardest to be calmly ready for another miscarriage, but how do you emotionally prepare to lose a pregnancy, and at the same time prepare to keep it?

I’ve spent almost 32 weeks out of the last year stuck in the first trimester of pregnancy, like a messed up version of Groundhog Day — Bill Murray didn’t have to do it pregnant. Lots of women wait to announce their pregnancies until after 12 weeks for fear of miscarriage, and because of the pressure that results from friends and family who, purely out of love, have heavy emotions riding on the outcome of your pregnancy — something over which you have limited control.

Obviously, I’m not taking the secrecy route. There’s just no way I can keep this big part of my recent life to myself. It’s not like I’m telling the grocery clerk, “Guess what? I had a miscarriage! And I’m pregnant!” but it just comes up sometimes in conversation, and it feels unfair to keep this quiet for the sake of other people’s comfort.

The fact is that even though most people mean well, it’s generally pretty awkward when you tell them you’ve been pregnant and you don’t have a kid. They look at you with incredible amounts of pity, like you’re some sad, abused puppy, instead of a basically-okay adult person telling them about a recent experience.

Understanding, empathetic people who say things like, “Oh wow, I’m sorry, I bet that’s hard,” or, “What was that like?” are in the minority. The more common reply is along the lines of, “Well, I’m sure it will happen when it’s meant to be.”

I HATE THIS. You have no idea if I ever will be able to carry a pregnancy to term, so quit making diagnoses of my destiny. What are you, a fortune teller? One friend who knew about my past abortion asked me, “Well, do you think this happened to you because you had an abortion?”

NO, I DO NOT. In fairness (?) to her, the only reason I’d told her about the abortion in the first place was because I knew she’d disapprove but be too Minnesotan to say anything . . . so maybe I brought that one on myself.

From where I sit, most secrecy comes from a place of shame and fear of social rejection, and we all know how society treats women who don’t fulfill its standards for being baby factories. But women should not be blamed for miscarriages.

We aren’t shamed into hiding other struggles in our life, like illness or the death of a loved one, because we know they’re not our fault. Miscarriage should be treated the same. There are places in the world where women are in jail for having miscarriages, as well as states in the U.S. that have taken steps towards criminalizing the death of a fetus.

It’s important that we open up the dialogue about miscarriage — they’re enormously common, and hardly ever talked about. They are nothing to be ashamed of.

Sarah Bourne Zethmayr wrote this article for xoJane.

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 Race

I Think I’m Attracted to White Men Because of My Own Internalized Racism

xoJane.com is where women go to be their unabashed selves, and where their unabashed selves are applauded

To this day I’m still working on freeing myself from the years of damage the media and the society and the history have done

xojane

Having a crush on someone is, for me, the absolute worst. It’s like being trapped and controlled by my thoughts and feelings about the person I’m into. And because of my social anxiety and general awkwardness, and the fact that my life isn’t a rom-com, nothing positive ever comes from these situations. Unfortunately, it happens more often than I would like.

Most recently, it was a handsome brown-eyed friend whose deep voice and bright smile lingered in my imagination during every waking moment for months. Thinking about him all day rendered me basically useless as a productive human being. I could barely write, study, or finish an episode of Gilmore Girls without curling up into the fetal position with a sigh, where I would just feel.

When I have feelings for someone, even if it’s just a crush, I fall pretty hard. Although I can be attracted to someone of any race or gender, like so many of my other major crushes, he’s male and white. And I know this has something to do with why I’m attracted to him.

I have a thing for white guys. And writing that last sentence makes me feel gross, like I’m a traitor, or a self-hating black woman. I know it’s wrong to think this way, to focus on being with a white guy as the ultimate goal in my love life. And I have been trying, very hard, to resist the notion that I must aspire to getting a partner who has lighter skin than I do.

Even as a kid, I knew it was strange. I hadn’t yet learned the word problematic, hadn’t studied sociology, and didn’t know how to think critically about race, but something about being attracted to the white boys in class, and hating my dark-skinned, kinky-haired, full-lipped face when I looked in the mirror didn’t sit well with me.

When I was in high school, I read The Color Complex, learned about the Clark doll tests, and it hit me. Huh. I was literally taught by society to hate myself. This realization didn’t instantly dismantle the structures of white supremacy in my colonized mind. To this day I’m still working on freeing myself from the years of damage that the media and my history books and the boys who made fun of me at school have done.

Just to be clear, I’m speaking from personal experience, and I don’t think that every single black woman is attracted to white guys because of internalized racism. But I have a feeling that some of us, and perhaps many women of color, are.

In my case, both personal experiences and white supremacy are to blame. Personal experiences include the black boys who made fun of me and made me feel ugly when I was a kid and the black men who have harassed me in public.

Undoubtedly, mass media and Eurocentric beauty standards have also had an effect on my repeated crushes on white guys. White men in mass media are portrayed as handsome, romantic, kind, caring, and ideal partners. Black men in the media are portrayed as lying, cheating, abusive, and delinquent. And throughout my childhood, everyone and everyone would remind me, with or without words, that being a black girl, especially one with darker skin, means being undesirable.

I wanted to make up for that, as do many other black girls. So we would buy skin lightening creams, try to stay out of direct sunlight, and chemically relax our hair or otherwise alter its natural state or appearance. It wasn’t enough, and it never would be. Being black isn’t something you can hide with wigs, weaves, or extensions, no matter how well-done they are.

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Let’s talk more about hair for a minute, because it is at the core of black beauty standards. The above picture is probably the only picture I have of myself within the past 10 years with my hair in its natural, uncovered state. Since the idea of being seen with my natural hair meant letting people see me as my most authentic black self, showing it to the world is slightly terrifying.

Viola Davis, who started wearing wigs after developing stress-related alopecia, continued to wear them after her condition was resolved. She described her insecurity about her natural hair in an interview with Vulture: “I wore a wig in the Jacuzzi. I had a wig I wore around the house. I had a wig that I wore to events. I had a wig that I wore when I worked out. I never showed my natural hair. It was a crutch, not an enhancement . . . I was so desperate for people to think that I was beautiful.” I’ve been wearing wigs for the past few years for the same reasons.

The idea of being with a white man was never about the men themselves, who, besides their whiteness, are often mediocre. It’s that being loved by a white man would make up for my perceived inadequacy as a black woman.

Black girls, especially darker-skinned ones, are unwanted. Up until very recently (praise be to Shonda Rhimes), we were not the love interests. Books, TV shows, and film didn’t acknowledge our humanity and complexity, with the occasional exception of the lighter-skinned black girl. The way we are portrayed in the media is representative of real life desirability politics. According to OkCupid’s data on race and attraction, black women are the least desirable among all groups of women.

The first, and only, boyfriend I ever had was a white guy. As inexperienced and anxious I was about relationships, he made me feel comfortable because he made me feel good about myself. I was very insecure, so I needed him to frequently tell me that I was beautiful.

I realize now, years later, that I probably had no business being in a relationship with anyone at the time. But he was hard to resist, because by just saying simple, trite things about how much he cared about me, he made me feel like royalty. Because this white man had chosen me, somewhere in the depths of my subconsciousness, where the internalized racism dwells, I knew that I had won the jackpot. Knowing that he had chosen me instead of a white woman somehow compensated for my blackness and made me feel special. It proved that I was actually beautiful (despite what I had been made to believe my whole life) and capable of being loved. And as an added bonus, if we ended up having kids, I wouldn’t worry as much about my daughter (who would have lighter skin and curlier hair than I do) having the same self-esteem issues that I did as a child.

The guy I mentioned at the beginning of this piece ended up flat-out rejecting me. Which was totally fine, and expected. What I felt afterward were the normal symptoms of “being rejected by your crush” syndrome: humiliation, hurt, longing, loneliness. But also disappointment in knowing that I’ve once again failed to achieve the ultimate goal of obtaining the white male gaze. I felt worthless: I’m not pretty, or smart, or interesting. I, as a black woman, am not worthy of loving, or at least that’s how I felt. I’m working on realizing I am worthy of those things (in general, not just from white men) unlearning years’ worth of lies I’ve been told about my value.

Loving oneself as a woman of color is as vital to survival as it is revolutionary. That’s why the idea of a young black girl wanting to look like her brought tears to Janelle Monáe’s eyes during an appearance on The Queen Latifah Show. This is why Lupita Nyong’o’s rise to fame as a dark-skinned black woman is so relevant to our community. And why at the SAG Awards Viola Davis thanked the creators of How to Get Away With Murder “for thinking that a sexualized, messy, mysterious woman could be a 49-year-old, dark-skinned African-American woman who looks like me.”

Thankfully, we live in a time when it is becoming both legal and acceptable for people to date whomever they want. I don’t think my attraction to white men is inherently problematic. Though since it has been a pattern, I do think that it’s necessary to analyze it and interpret racial patterns of attraction with a sociological lens, and I would encourage everyone to do the same. Be attracted to whomever you want, but understand why you have these attractions and how they perpetuate racism if you’re white, and how they reflect internalized racism if you’re a person of color.

Keziyah Lewis wrote this article for xoJane.

Read next: I Am a ‘Conscious’ Black Woman Who Fell for a White Man

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