Style vs. Substance in the Blogsphere AKA Why I Posted a Photo Story

*YES THIS POST IS VERY MUCH OVERDUE AND I SHOULD HAVE POSTED THIS IN APRIL BUT PLEASE FORGIVE ME I WILL REPENT FOR MY SINS WITH AN ONSLAUGHT OF ENTRIES IN THE NEXT COUPLE OF MONTHS SO YAY OR NOOOO DEPENDS ON WHETHER YOU LIKE ME OR NOT*

The definition of a blogger has been debated ever since the platform has been introduced into the mainstream.

Honestly, I’m unsure if it actually has been debated, but for the sake of this entry, it has been.

Are bloggers those who write long form entries and personal anecdotes? Are bloggers those who focus on the visual aspects of the Internet, posting photos and having a large social media presence, as well as a front seat at Fashion Week? Are bloggers a combination of both of these things? Can they be both of these things?

However, a large amount of today’s most well-known bloggers are more focused on maintaining a visual aesthetic rather than writing entries.

Punfiltered, I like to think, is very much based on writing. Each of my entries has some sort of longevity, and I spend a long time curating my content. To me, this page is a space where I can express my thoughts and feelings, almost like a personal diary. I consider myself almost more of a writer than a blogger.

Although I do focus on making my page visually pleasing, the most important part is the actual entries.

At this point, it is pretty easy to tell that as a writer, it can be infuriating to see bloggers who focus more on style amass all of this success, and even fit the mold of a “blogger” for most.

However, instead of writing an angry entry, I decided that I would try to write a visually-based entry myself, just to see what it was like and gain a better understanding of what I had planned on attacking.

I originally wanted to do this a few months back, just on a regular Sunday. But I soon realized that the photos were far too mundane and boring. So I decided to restart this venture on a day when I accompanied my two cousins and aunts to look at prom dresses in the LA Fashion District. I knew there would be plenty of things to take pictures of.

Did I like this new approach? Well, I did not dislike it, but it is definitely not for me, nor will it ever replace or overshadow my preferred methods of blogging.

The biggest reason is because I didn’t have the proper equipment to take good pictures. I only have an iPhone 5S, and an older one nonetheless. The pictures came out alright, but not beautiful like most photo-based bloggers are able to do.

The solution to this problem would obviously be to invest in a better cell phone or a camera. But that would be a waste, because I won’t be photo blogging very much.

There a few reasons why. One, I don’t usually do things exciting enough to warrant photo blog entries. Neither do I lead the sort of lifestyle where even doing nothing is aesthetically pleasing.

Also, I’m simply not a strong enough photographer to make pictures the focus of my entries. I would much rather showcase my writing.

Lastly, while this may be a good thing to some, the sort of iPhone photo blogging I did required minimal effort.

I’m not saying that all brands of this do not take much work. In fact, most of them require plenty of effort, that is, if they are working with professional materials, or had a drive to take the perfect photos, none of which I have.

All I had to do was take a fair amount of phone pictures and give them quick captions. It could not have taken me more than twenty minutes to do the entire thing.

I’m not too frequent of a poster on my page, so I want to make sure that when I do post, I am putting my biggest effort into my entries. I did not feel that way about my photo story.

Although this sort of blogging was not for me, I could see why other people would do it, and why it is so successful. We live in a world that depends on vitality. Pictures are easier for a consumer to scroll past than a long blog entry.

While I am aware of this, I am still staying true to my writing-based style of blogging, simply because I enjoy it. In the end, I would rather do what I love than appeal to what other people love.

Do I still think that today’s definition of blogging places an emphasis on style over substance? To a degree, yes. But do I understand the appeal of photo-based blogging, and do I know that there is plenty of effort that goes into it? Definitely.

I do not hate photo blogging, I was just never meant to do it. But, if I’m ever doing anything interesting, and I am too busy to upload a full-fledged entry, photo blogging will definitely be an option.

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School and Perpetual Self-doubt and Conflicting Inner Forces, Oh My!

If you are standing up right now, you may want to sit down. If you are wearing an uncomfortable outfit, you may want to change into some sweats. If you have a lot on your mind, you may want to meditate or light some eucalyptus candles while you’re at it.

Why? Because I am about to deliver some truly shocking news.

I…

Actually…

Like…

School. A lot, in fact.

I can hear the collective gasp already. But, please, allow me to explain.

All of my English teachers have been the ones to mold my passion as a writer. The amazing friends I have met over the years have positively impacted me and have made life valuable. School has given me so many fantastic opportunities to learn about myself, learn about the world, and learn about the lives of others. And that’s barely the tip of the iceberg.

I place a lot of emphasis on my education. As positive as that may seem, it leads to the sole thing I don’t like about school: the competition, and the impact that it has had on my confidence in my own abilities.

I’m going to begin by retracing my path as a student, a pretty traditional one.

From kindergarten to seventh grade, I was on top. Every kid tried to cheat off of my tests, my report cards were full of 4s and As, and my standardized test scores were always advanced, and on occasion, the top 5 to 10 percentile in the nation.

During those times, school was challenging enough for me to work my hardest, but simple enough where academic-related stress was a rare occurrence for me.

I remember a moment in the seventh grade where I had a 4.0 GPA. After the ceremony that honored me and other students with similar achievements, my mom cried and said that this was the proudest moment of her life.

I did not understand her reaction. For me, this was not a big deal. I just did assignments, and got good grades. It was habitual.

Little did I know that this would be one of the final instances where I felt such a way, because in 8th grade, everything changed.

It was Algebra 1, my first “real” math class. I’ll spare you the long story: I tanked in that class. Part of it was my inconsistent teacher and the constant barrage of substitutes that knew as little as their students did, part of it was my failure to get help when I needed it, but most of it was the fact that it was a relatively difficult class and subject for me.

I ended up getting my first C ever, which eventually became my first B ever. This grade kept me from getting the prestigious award for maintaining a 4.0 all throughout middle school.

Awards night was absolutely horrendous for me. The visual of seeing those who had once prospered alongside me, including my best friend, walking up to the stage and accepting the award I should have gotten haunts me to this day. Even as I’m writing this, I’m tearing up.

The real kicker was the fact that the parents of each of the awardees walked up to accept their award with their smart children that deserved to be celebrated. My parents and I were confined to our folding chairs.

That night, I had never felt more ashamed in my life. My grandparents offered to take me out for ice cream, I outright told them that I didn’t deserve it. Instead of enjoying a nice, refreshing ice cream cone (cookie dough with rainbow sprinkles, obviously), I cried myself to sleep. Not only did I feel like I had failed myself, I felt like I had failed my family.

Looking back, I now know that my middle school years were amazing. All As except one B in my academic classes? That’s fantastic!

Honestly, it took me a while to get to that point, but I’m glad that I have finally found the ability to view sixth grade through eighth grade in a positive light.

However, the same can definitely not be said about my high school years.

I’m not going to pretend like I take easy classes. I don’t. My agenda over the last three years has been full of honors classes, high-level courses, and a few APs here and there.

For the most part, I have worked my tail off in these classes (except for 10th grade AP Euro. We don’t talk about 10th grade AP Euro). I study for every test, I ask my teachers questions whenever I need it, and I do my best to completely immerse myself in every little thing that I learn.

With habits like this, it’s safe to assume that I have a set of UC-friendly grades to match.

Well, my friend, that assumption is completely incorrect.

It’s not like my grades are generally thought of as bad, however. I’ve received mostly As and Bs, with a few Cs in my worst subjects, math and PE.

However, I fail to see that I have relatively good grades because for the first eight or so years of my academic career, I was at the tippy-top. Now, I’m not, and as much as I hate to admit it, I have had a very difficult time accepting this truth.

Why have I had such a hard time? I compare myself to others.

This is the part where I introduce you to my two intrinsic forces that are in charge of this tendency. Because I am eccentric (er, a freak), I decided to aptly dub these forces Yayla and Faila.

Let’s meet Yayla first. Physically, she is a gleaming high school movie stereotype. She’s the head cheerleader, the girl that’s always smiling, and the one with an insufferably high voice.

In case her name was not indicative enough, she is my biggest supporter. However, the way she finds support for me is, well, questionable.

To put it in perspective, I’m going to give an example of a situation where Yayla prevailed. A few months ago, I was chatting with a very VERY smart person that I knew and admired for his intelligence. He was talking about how upset he was for getting a C on an English assignment, whereas I had just found out that I got an 8 out of 9 on my first AP English essay, the top score in the class.

Yayla told me, “Go, Cayla! You’re better than the smart guy! You can do anything! WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” (yes, with that many “o”s.)

As terrible as it sounds, I was using someone else’s defeat to augment the gravity of my victory. That’s Yayla’s specialty: putting myself above others, even when it’s not necessary, and basing my success on being better than my peers.

Last year, when I thought I didn’t get into AP Lang (I wrote not one but TWO entries on this. You can check them out if you love me), I surveyed the acceptance list and picked out the people who Yayla thought did not deserve their positions. Although it did not deter my ferocious anger and floods of tears, it automatically made me think that the Lang teachers had just taken the biggest L in their lives.

(Am I using that term correctly? I sincerely hope so.)

So in short, Yayla is that one girl who seems nice, but can literally destroy everyone else who she finds inferior to herself. As the great orator Katy Perry once tweeted, “Watch out for the Regina George in sheep’s clothing.” (She was talking about Yayla, definitely not Taylor Swift. I’ve tried to sell this story to TMZ a thousand times over, but I’m banned from their headquarters for life.)

Let’s go on the opposite end and meet by far the most ubiquitous of my intrinsities (yes, I know that is not a word, but it should be): Faila.

Faila is the Anti-Yayla: she absolutely despises me. To her, everything I do is wrong. If I get a one hundred on a test, she will never fail to remind me that I should have gotten the extra credit point. If I finish a novel, she will angrily point out plot holes and tell me that I don’t deserve to feel proud. If I’m on the honor roll or qualify for honors’ societies and CSF, she reiterates that I barely qualify. If I ace a song, one of my notes didn’t have enough vibrato, according to her. If I break the curve for an APUSH quiz, she will shout from rooftops that I am not the only one who did so, and that I have no right to feel special.

With her, there are no positive comparisons: only negative. Her biggest superpower, however, is disguising herself as some sort of motivational superhero.

Sometimes she fools me, which isn’t much of a feat considering that I was one of those sixth graders who believed in the school’s “pool” on the “third floor,” but that’s besides the point.

In these cases, I will have the mentality that if I want to impress Faila, I’ll obviously work harder, and I’ll get good grades. This does lead to me going the extra mile and putting in a little more effort than usual, which is a positive. But Faila will never be impressed, which eventually leads to an influx of stress, tears, self-doubt, and slight masochistic tendencies from time to time.

One of the cases where Faila made the most unwelcome appearance was my math analysis final last semester. In that class, I was on a dangerous, barely stable rope bridge connected to C Island over the rushing waters of D Rapids. My final, I thought, was the rusty nail that could either miraculously stay in place, or cause the bridge to fall into the depths below, where there was no escape.

That math final was hard. Suffice it to say, there were a lot of “educated guesses.”

To make matters worse, when I was struggling to answer the questions I had skipped and gone back to countless times, Faila decided to join the party.

You bitch,” she told me in her scathing tone, an angry New York accent, obviously. “You have zero future. No college is ever going to want a girl who has a D in regular math analysis. Not even honors. No employer is going to want you, either. You’d better figure out a talent so you can become a street performer, because that’s all you’ve got. Since you’re so bad at math, you’re obviously bad at everything else. Delete your novel files. Get out of CSF now. Stop believing in yourself at once. You’re a fail, a fail, a fail, a fail, a fail, a fail, a fail, a fail, a fail, a fail,

YOU’RE A FAIL!”

I wish I could say that I managed to counter Faila’s insults and use them to motivate me to answer those questions, slay my final, and prove her wrong. But unfortunately, I did exactly what she wanted me to do: I completely succumbed.

Somehow, I was able to finish my test with ten minutes to spare, but as I brought my test up to the teacher, I could feel the nails on the bridge breaking. D Rapids had never felt so close.

At my desk, I could not contain any of my emotions. I began to bury my head in my desk and cry.

No, “cry” is an understatement, I freaking sobbed.

Before I go on and lament some more, I just want to address how annoying I must have been. The other students were trying to take their final and get a good grade, whereas I was sobbing extremely loudly because I had just been defeated by my intrinsic demon.

So I’m going to issue an apology: if you were in Mr. Wilson’s class on the day of my final and you were affected by my wails, I apologize profusely and each of you all will have a guaranteed position in my will.

But anyways, I believed every little thing Faila had said. My usual optimism had completely flown into the wastebasket. I was the worst version of myself in that moment.

Although it’s irrelevant to this entry, this story does have a happy ending. I ended up doing okay on the final, raising my percentage, and keeping a C. When the grade was entered, I got whiplash from an overload of celebratory dabbing.

But we’re talking about Yayla and Faila now. Honestly, I don’t wish this upon too many people (or forces), but I want both of them dead, or fired, if I want to be less extreme.

I want them to take a nice, luxurious, long, permanent vacation to Punta Cana, or wherever intrinsic forces go on luxurious, long, permanent vacations.

Instead, I want to replace them with a whole new force, someone who knows how to bring me up without bringing others down, gives me constructive criticism without tearing me down, and only wants the best for me.

When she is born, her name will be You’re Pretty Awesome and You Don’t Need Grades or The Faults of Others to Confirm That-la. Seems suitable, right?

But before her birth can occur, there will be more than a few obstacles along the way.

By that, I mean that I’ll have to become more confident in my intelligence, my abilities, and my accomplishments.

Which brings me back to school. As much as I hate to blame the system as a whole, I feel that our nation’s most prevalent academic organization is the main reason for my lack of confidence.

I don’t want to get all opinion-editorial-ish, so I’m going to keep it brief.

I hate that my grades make it difficult for me to believe people when they tell me I’m smart. I hate that I can only feel fulfilled when I have the highest number of test questions correct. I hate that my faith in myself and my hopes for my future can be extirpated in an instant due [to a decimal]. I hate that the few times I’ve cried have been because of tests and essays. I hate that school and its narrow definition of “smart” has made me feel worthless.

Wow. That was a lot to get off of my chest, in case the page count was not indicative enough of that. But may I remind you that when all is said and done, I love school.

I just don’t like the way it decreases my confidence while simultaneously making me act pompous and envious in order to feel worthy.

But I am confident that I will overcome this, and abort the efforts of Faila and Yayla in the process. How will I do this? Every day, I will say something to myself that I am proud of. I will fixate on the positive, not the negative. If I can do that for everyone and everything else, I can do it for myself as well.

You know what? I’ll start right now. I have managed to build up an awesome blog with an awesome following of awesome friends and even a few awesome strangers. I have a small but awesome platform to post my awesome and less-than-awesome experiences and feelings. I am sure I can do this because of my awesome supporters’ awesome acceptance and awesome love. Thank you guys. So much.

PS: If I had a GPA point for every time I said “awesome” in those above sentences…

Album Review: Banks-The Altar

Before we get into this review, I need to address that this entry is the first real music review I’ve done in a while. It may be a little faulty, so bear with me.
Let’s start with the artist herself. Jillian Banks, AKA Banks, is an electronic R&B and alternative artist from Los Angeles. Her first album, Goddess, garnered enough success to give her a pretty substantial name in the “popular underground” scene (I just coined that term myself. This scene features artists who have a loyal fanbase, critical claim to at least a degree, and maybe even some chart success, but are not overly massive names in modern music. Major examples of this include Alessia Cara, Melanie Martinez, Flume, Carly Rae Jepsen, etc.)
I discovered Banks upon the release of her first album. I remember falling in love with the single “Drowning,” then listening to the whole album.
There were a couple of exceptions, (why is “Fall Over” a thing?) but I liked the album a lot. I revisit its songs to this day.
On Goddess, Banks was trying to be empowering. On the title track, she warns a person that the lover they screwed over was a “goddess,” and not that Banks herself was one.
That was a good route to go, because saying “I’m a goddess” would be more vapid than anything, and it would borderline the purposeful narcissism in which brag rap is characterized.
However, that was the closest thing to self empowerment the album got.
In “Drowning,” she starts off by saying that a wrongdoing lover is going to “get some bad karma.” But in the hook and pre-chorus, she claims that she does things that he does not deserve the effort she’s putting into their relationship, and that she’s “drowning” for this guy.
This is not empowerment: this is an unhealthy relationship.
But my favorite song off of that album was “Someone New,” a tearful guitar ballad where she begs for her lover to stay faithful to her while she goes away.
The song ends with desperate cries of “I promise, baby one day I’ll come back for you.”
This song showcased Banks at her best: a girl in a seemingly healthy relationship who has to sacrifice it for her career.
When I heard about the release of her sophomore album, I was hoping that she would play on this theme more. An album that focused on balancing love life and the demands of being a singer would be unique.
Did she do this? No, not really.
But was The Altar still a strong record? Well…
A lot of people have been pointing out that The Altar shows a different side of Banks, a more confident side.
In “Gemini Feed,” arguably the lead single, Banks mocks a lover for thinking he could “get her to the altar.”
In “F*** With Myself,” she declares “I used to care what you think about me.”
In “Lovesick,” she admits that she is sexually and romantically frustrated, and that she “ain’t even ashamed” of that.
Many people have praised this new aspect of Banks’ message. I, for one, do not hate it. Not at all.
But as I said, my favorite Banks is the emotional, vulnerable one, and that part of her sound was conveyed in two songs.
First, there’s “Mother Earth,” another acoustic guitar ballad, much like “Someone New.”
In this song she comforts someone, maybe a lover, a friend, or a family member, assuring that every time they fall, she’ll be there.
Although this song is close to “Someone New,” when it comes to overall sound, it’s very different in multiple areas.
I remember seeing that Banks wrote this song for her newborn niece because she hated that she had to grow up in such a world where female discrimination is still very evident.
This song is beautiful because it’s not sad, but not necessarily happy, either. It’s somewhere in the middle. I love how Banks belts the chorus in a higher key than what she normally does. The violin solo in the chorus really makes this a special moment on the album. If it were up to me, I would take out the backing vocals, because they distract from the simplicity of the song.
But the closest track to “Someone New” when it comes to the message is “To the Hilt.” Although it’s a piano ballad, both of them deal with similar themes, and Banks’ delivery is full of sadness both times around.
But “Someone New” is by far better, because there are much more raw moments. In the bridge of that song, you could tell Banks was actually close to tears, but in “To the Hilt,” she was faking it. Also, the guitar in “Someone New” added a strange energy to the song, whereas “To the Hilt” used a very general piano melody.
Another song that stood out was “Judas,” not for the meaning, but for the tone. Oddly enough, this song bears a striking resemblance to “The Hills” by The Weeknd.
Okay, hear me out.
Both songs take on a dark, haunting tone. Both of them feature the artists’ lower range on the verses, and a more explosive presence on the chorus (The Weeknd more so than Banks). AutoTune is utilized well in both tracks, because it adds to the ominous, purposefully discomforting mood of the song.
Also, they dated each other a while back. I don’t know if that counts as good evidence, but it happened.
“Trainwreck” is another personal highlight. The song chronicles Banks in panic mode as she tries and fails to gather herself.
When I first heard it, I was not very impressed. The trip-hop production and her borderline rapping in the verses just didn’t sit well with me.
But the more I dissected the lyrics, the more I realized this was intentional. She’s supposed to be going off the rails, the song is called “Trainwreck,” after all.
The high-pitched synths, the increasingly faster tempo, and the shouting but not obnoxious delivery show Banks at her worst, very much different than her usual slinky coolness.
“27 Hours,” a powerful diva ballad, is also worth mentioning. Although Banks doesn’t have a big, powerful voice, per say, her straining added to the darker themes the song deals with. The most powerful thing here is the production, with a pre-chorus that builds up to an excellent beat drop full of her backing vocals, and eventually to one of the best vocal moments of the album on the bridge. As a closer, this is perfect.
Other standouts from the album include “This is Not About Us,” by far one of the most singable things she has ever released, “Lovesick,” in which Banks is honest about her desperation and manages to make it seem seductive, “Gemini Feed,” by far the catchiest song on the album, “F*** With Myself,” which resonated very deeply with me, someone who is her own biggest bully, “Poltergeist,” which features some fantastic production in the opening notes as well as in the staccato chorus, and “Mind Games,” which is, in my opinion, Banks’ biggest translation into a strong dominatrix, and the high quality of the production as well as Banks’ vocals are very convincing.
However, besides the aforementioned “To the Hilt,” The Altar had its duds as well. Clearly the weakest songs were “Haunt” and the aptly named “Weaker Girl.”
On “Weaker Girl,” Banks attempts to compensate the lack of lyrical content in the song by trailing off in her notes and repeating words multiple times (if I hear “bad motherf***er like me” one more, I may get whiplash). I like the overall message of the song, but it could have been executed much better.
“Haunt” tries its best to be a minimalistic, raw R&B track with a snapping beat and backing vocals throughout. However, it comes across as monotonous, and the lack of personality in Banks delivery certainly does not help.
As a whole, The Altar is a good album. I can definitely get behind this new Banks, but I will continue to miss that rawness that made me fall in love with her debut album.

My biggest resolution, AKA an excuse to talk about my new blog

You saw this coming from miles away, didn’t you?

I’m going to answer my own rhetorical question and say, “Yes, of course you did.”

New Year’s resolutions are inescapable at this point. You’ve probably seen a bunch of sentiment on social media about how “this year is going to be MY year,” gotten a talking-to from a parental unit on how you should get your life together, or sworn you’re going to eat healthy as your lips bleed from too much consumption of potato chip salt (Just me? Sorry). Continue reading “My biggest resolution, AKA an excuse to talk about my new blog”

So, Why the Change?

Those of you who have been on my page in the last day or two have probably noticed that my blog has had a pretty extreme makeover.
Yes, I changed my name. Goodbye Style & Other Complicated Things, hello The Starving Writer.
If I were a YouTuber, I’d probably go the dramatic route and make a tearful video talking about how I’ve lied to all of my subscribers and strayed away from my true identity in the process. Continue reading “So, Why the Change?”

Made of Money

For my entire life, I’ve lived in a city that many around the world cite as a launchpad for prosperous careers in entertainment, a city that is constantly glamorized in pop culture, a city that is angelic– by name, that is.

Sure, living in LA has its perks. Beautiful beaches await just over the mountains, just about every culture melds together (that means REALLY good food), and attractions that many travel miles to see and do offer discounts for residents. (LACMA’s free museum admission, anyone?)

Growing up here is also quite beneficial for starting a career. The stereotype that everyone in this city has a headshot is actually quite true. (I, myself, do not have one, but most of my friends and family do, and I know which headshot photographers are the créme de la créme)

But there is for sure a downside to living in such an enticing, notorious town: money.

Concretely, everything seems to cost more in such a large city.

Cupcakes are $5, cheaply made, “trendy” clothes are priced way higher than they have any right to be, and in some of the grimier parts of the city, using the bathroom can even cost a couple of coins.

Also, the myth that Angelenos pay handsome sums to secure a parking space is one hundred percent true. Believe everything you hear.

But my least favorite aspect of living in a city known for its wealth is, well, the fact that it is known for its wealth.

When it comes to money, my city is split into three simple categories: low-income, middle class, and rich.

My family falls into the central classification. We live in an adequate house with adequate income in a financially adequate neighborhood. Our lives are based on adequacy.

I enjoy living this way, to be honest. I’m usually a pretty no-frills person and I don’t demand very much material possessions. (except for black platform ankle boots from Vetements. MAKE A KNOCKOFF NOW.)

But what I don’t enjoy is the divide.

Nothing shows how split up our city is more than our neighborhoods.

I live on a lovely suburban block with one story houses and drought-friendly front yards. Some of the houses near me are a little extravagant, but nothing too out of the ordinary.

But if you drive for a few miles in another direction, you reach the filthy rich village of Calabasas, which has been put on the map by Britney Spears, Justin Bieber, and, most notably, the Kardashian-Jenners.

This section is characterized by its mansions, its money, and its hot moms. Its residents sit at the top of the pyramid that is Los Angeles. If you’re from here, you’re royalty.

But in the other direction are the less presentable, less exciting, and less funded towns.

Most people try to avoid these places as much as possible. The concept of “less fortunate” people is too much for them to grasp.

At my high school, aristocrats hailing from these neighborhoods are everywhere. They have Maseratis, Rolexes, Yeezys, Grey Goose, world-class drugs, and a whole lot of popularity. They are living proof of the “rich LA kids” stereotype.

These girls and boys are worshipped. Many want to either be them, date them, at least know them, or, best of all, all three.

Lifestyles like this may seem intangible to most, but for anyone who lives simpler than these royal classes, they are right in front of us.

So close, yet so far.

Everything in the City of Angels seems to be a competition. Who has the most expensive car, who carries the most high-quality handbag, who retreats to the most extravagant houses.

In this competition, adequacy and stability are not enough to move you up the radar. As the aforementioned Kardashian-Jenner clan have demonstrated, all it takes is money.

Unfortunately, not being as lucky when it comes to finances places you on the bottom, no exceptions.

These social norms frequently test my security of where I am financially. How could they not?

When I see girls from my school flaunting their completely real Vetements ankle boots, it is difficult to not feel like my knockoffs (hint, hint, wink, wink) are pathetic.

These are the times I want to flee the city. Not too far, maybe somewhere in central California, where I can still enjoy the beaches and the balmy temperatures.

But when all is said and done, the bright lights and mass appeal lure me back into the land of opportunity, or the land of broken dreams and self-hatred.

It depends on how you look at it.

How Broad City Helped Me Come To Terms With My Faith

If you’re one of my good friends, or pretty much anyone who’s ever had a conversation with me, you have probably know that I am in love…
With a little Comedy Central show called Broad City.
I know I’m not the only one who loves this show. After all, it has been nominated for many awards and has received acclaim from audiences and critics alike.
Even Hillary Clinton is a fan–she guest starred on an episode last season. No matter what your opinion on that woman is, you’ve got to admit that that is impressive.
The show’s concept is simple, maybe even a little overdone: 2 twenty-something besties in New York City, Abbi and Ilana, navigate their lives through various misadventures.
Now I’m not a fan of TV. I’ve never been one to become hooked on a series or binge watch on Netflix. I know, I know, I’m weird.
But why am I so obsessed with Broad City? Why do I look forward to seeing new episodes of that show, but couldn’t care less about pretty much any other program?
The answer comes down to one thing. One thing that really shouldn’t matter, and is actually pretty superficial.
Abbi and Ilana are Jewish women, and they are not portrayed as being a joke.
For a long time, I never understood how it felt to be misrepresented, even as a Jewish girl.
Whenever my classmates would talk about their Christmas presents, I never felt left out. I just knew I was different.
When I would come across another Jewish person at my school, I would be pleasantly surprised. But I never wondered why I had to feel pleasantly surprised when I met someone like me. That’s just how I’ve always been: unfazed by things that could very well faze me.
But growing up, I noticed a common pattern in Jewish characters in popular culture: they were, 90 percent of the time, nerdy boys that would constantly get picked on.
I’m sure I’m not the only one who can say that she watched Victorious when I was younger. It was the only show I liked at that age, the Broad City of my young years, if you will.
But there was a serious problem. One character, Robbie, a Jewish boy, was constantly picked on and belittled by the other people on the show. Looking back, I can’t help but wonder if his Jewish faith was a reason why.
It can be very easy to say I’m “triggered” after reading that statement. “It’s a TV show, calm down,” you’ll probably think to yourself.
But I can safely say that seeing that kind of portrayal made me feel down on myself. For a long time, I hated to be open about my religion, because I was scared that I would be looked at as inferior to other faiths.
So feel free to call me “triggered,” but keep in mind that I have my reasons.
Anyways, when I was around 15 years old, I discovered clips from Broad City online. I laughed out loud, and immediately set the series to record on my DVR.
As I watched more and more of the show, I got to know Abbi and Ilana even better. I eventually saw episodes in which their Jewish faith was highlighted.
Seeing that these two amazing and hysterical women and I had something in common ushered a change in me.
I realized that up until watching Broad City, I had indeed been misrepresented.
But I wasn’t too upset, because I had these fantastic ladies out there to assure my that I wasn’t alone.
Even though ugly stereotypes and antisemitism still permeate our society, they are not the only things out there. There are positive things, including Broad City.
And because of those positive things, I can now say that I’m proud to be Jewish.
After discovering that program, I became much more open about my faith. I joined a Jewish youth group, I worked at my temple, and I recently got my faith confirmed, all things that I would not be as quick to do if it weren’t for Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer.
So, thank you guys for helping me love myself. Thank you for bringing me out of a hiding place. Thank you for doing the same for other girls like me.
Women like you and shows like yours are the reasons why representation truly is a beautiful thing.

The unsung inequality of teen girls’ bathing suits

A shopping trip makes me notice a major hole in swimwear for girls between ages 13-25. (by the way, all photos are mine)

When summer comes around, the one thing that’s on the minds of many women and girls is a whole lot of BS.

Not the kind of BS that you’re thinking of, but finding the perfect Bathing Suit.

For some girls, bathing suit shopping is a breeze. These girls don’t need to worry about how their suits fit because just about everything will look fine on them. They can totally buy 5-dollar H&M bikinis whenever they want.

However, for most girls – myself included – bathing suit shopping can be closer to a treasure hunt. By “most girls,” I mean those who aren’t model material. I’m not trying to be rude, but it’s true. Hardly anyone can look like Gisele in a bikini.
It’s hard to find a bathing suit that suits me well (pun kind of intended) for multiple reasons. First, there’s my body. I’m not heavy, per se, but I am certainly not thin. My abs are not impressive and my thighs are “meh” at best. I don’t mean to brag, but I have a bigger bust than the average 15-year-old (not saying my bra size, because that’s gross) so I require more support. I’m also a little short.
Then, there’s my parents. My mom has always told me to “preserve my modesty,” and does not let me wear revealing clothes. With my body, it’s not like I can. However, when you’re shopping for something that’s meant to be revealing, like a swimsuit, it can be difficult to find something she likes.
Lastly, most people can relate to this one: the prices. My family is definitely middle class. Spending over a hundred bucks on a piece of waterproof fabric isn’t overly ideal for us – or hardly anyone – for that matter.
I haven’t been able to go swimming much this summer because I didn’t have a bathing suit. So I bit the bullet one hot Monday morning and ventured to the mall with my younger sister. We didn’t plan on buying anything: we were just looking.
We were looking for a one-piece suit, preferably with a high neck, that had great support, enough covering in the back, in a versatile color and style that I would wear and feel stylish in. We were aiming to spend less than $50, but my mom could probably be persuaded to go a spend a little more.
Yes, I had a very specific order, and one-pieces aren’t exactly in style at the moment. So I decided to make this shopping excursion sort of a hunt for the perfect swimsuit.
I wanted to go to plenty of stores, try on plenty of suits, and record the prices for later, so I could show them to my mom.
The first place we went to was Victoria’s Secret. I expected a lot from there when it comes to support, since that’s what it specializes in.
Walking into the store, I was greeted by a cheery sales associate who asked me what I needed. I asked where the one-pieces were, and she led me to the swimming section.
“We have many,” the salesperson said.


The very color full, very skimpy swim section at Victoria’s Secret.

The salesperson wasn’t entirely incorrect. There were many one-piece bathing suits. But fabric on the one-pieces? Hardly any. The suits were very skimpy. It was Victoria’s Secret, the land of corsets with angel wings on the back of them.
I ended up getting 4 suits to try on. By the way, I did not take any pictures of me in them, because ew. My body=my business.

Oh, Victoria’s Secret. If only your lighting was as good as your customer service.

The first suit I tried on did not deserve to exist. It was hardly a one piece-just a backless bikini in a tribal print with a strip of fabric connecting each piece (I later learned this was called a “monokini”). When I put it on, I looked like a colorful bundle of logs.
The support was horrible, the back was THIS CLOSE to showing my buttcrack, and let’s just say it wasn’t flattering. The monstrosity was $78.50. Ummmm, no. You know it’s a bad sign when your innocent younger sister says you look like a slut.
The next was a black halter suit with a roundish crochet print. I actually had high-ish hopes for this one. It didn’t seem too bad,and it was only $58.50.

I finally tried it on. I was totally wrong. The support wasn’t half bad, but the back made the first suit seem like a muumuu. It was even lower than the monokini. I’d have to adjust my suit a LOT in the pool. It was a bad idea.

My next suit was white with a high halter neck and a strip of a lighter white, striped fabric going down the middle. The back was low, but hopefully, it would stretch. It was a little expensive for what it was – $78.50 – but my mom would probably fork over the extra 25 bucks if it was a good suit.
The back did not stretch, and the fabric, it turns out, was sheer. It was almost like I was missing a little bit of the center part of the suit, so the support was basically non-existent. This suit was also designed to be worn by a body-positive 20 something heiress to a Las Vegas pool club, NOT an adorkable 15-year-old. That was just an assault waiting to happen.

My fourth and final suit was actually not bad at all. It was a beautiful purple color, had one shoulder, a perfectly covered back, and a great material.

When it was on my body, I loved it. But when I was testing support, my opinion changed a little. I had support on the side with the strap, and obviously none on the side without it. If there’s anything worse than spillage in both boobs, it’s spillage in only one boob. Definitely not worth the $78.
My next store was Urban Outfitters. I didn’t really expect much from there, since I always need GPS to find my way out of the sale section.

It turns out they only had swimwear at their Santa Monica location. So, is a bathing suit now something so special I need to drive an hour away for one?
I then went to American Eagle Outfitters. I’d never been in there before since it’s basically the opposite of my style. But it was right there, so why not?
I asked an associate where their swimsuits were, and he directed me to the back. I asked about one-pieces, and he didn’t know if they had any. That wasn’t necessarily a good sign.
Turns out, their swimwear section was nothing more than a large rack of colorful bikinis. For whatever reason, I forgot to take a picture, so sorry about the vague description.
I moved on to H&M. Their vast swimsuit section was at the bottom level. Since there were so many suits, I had very high hopes.
As I was sorting through hangers upon hangers holding colorful bikinis, I noticed how inexpensive everything was. A two piece was less than $15. If the one-pieces fit right and were as cheap as that, I can get 3 or 4.

After 5 minutes of a fruitless search for one-pieces, my hopes were sagging like an old bathing suit. Finally, at the end of the rack, I discovered another monokini in black. I knew it would NOT work, but I worked so hard to find it, ignoring it would be a crime.
Although it was not expensive at $25, it was more than most of the two pieces. I went to try it on, and it was the most complicated thing ever. It was too hard to describe completely, but let’s say I got stuck so many times that I had to almost call 911.
When I finally figured the thing out, I was completely breathless. The swimsuit was so tight, except where I needed it to be, and so revealing, it was more like a rope with a little spot for a crotch. How could anyone think this is sexy, let alone pull it off?! It practically made me angry.


The Devil Wears This Swimsuit to a Miami Beach Club 

The next place I went to was Macy’s. I knew their suits would be on the pricier side, but the price could be totally fine thanks to my mom’s extreme couponing.
The section was right by the beauty area, and there was such a large selection of everything. One pieces, bikinis, tankinis, monokinis, weird skirt bathing suits, you name it. It was like a breath of clean, not-so-chlorinated water.


 My stomach finally felt accepted here at Macy’s.

However, not all the one-pieces were speaking to me. All of them had so much ruching on the front of them. This was to hide stomach fat, as the tags boasted. “Look 10 pounds slimmer in 10 seconds!” “Masks ALL fat!” So, were they just assuming that all women who had to wear a one piece was at least 10 pounds overweight? That was more than a little questionable.
I had to see if the magical slimming bathing suits actually worked. I grabbed three of the most tolerable ones and found a fitting room.
The first suit was black with tiny white polka dots. It was draped in such a way that it was meant to slim. When I had it on, I had mixed feelings. I did look a little lighter in my stomach area, and it had a perfectly acceptable back and decent support.


 Betty White at a Coachella pool party/rave.

The one thing it lacked was taste. It clearly was designed for a 50-year-old. Also, the price was a little much – $150 – but it was most likely on sale and we could use coupons. But I just wasn’t into the suit at all.
My next suit was a pinkish red, had a flat neck and so much ruching down the center, it almost looked like a striped pattern. It was $78, but it was by Calvin Klein, so the pricing was actually pretty fair.
This suit gave me the exact same results as the other one. It was perfectly flattering, nice and supportive, not too revealing, and did give me the artificial idea that I had a slim figure, but it was just so…old-ladyish. It wasn’t doing it for me.
My final suit was black with a sweetheart neckline, and had less ruching than the previous suit. When I tried it on, it was exactly how I expected it to be – perfect except for the style and price. The suit was very matronly, and was NOT worth the $119 price tag.
My next stop was Hollister. I didn’t necessarily imagine them having what I was looking for because of their unrealistic demographics. How could a regular girl be 16, 6’3, AND 95 pounds without dangerous and painful eating behaviors?


Don’t try to make Anorexic Surfer happen. It’s not gonna happen.

Like I expected, there was only one rack of bikini separates in the back of the dimly lit shop. The prices weren’t half bad, but I knew it was out of the question.
My next store was PINK, also known as Victoria’s Secret’s bubbly yet subtly sexy 13-year-old sister. Maybe they would have more teen-appropriate, less budget-denting one-pieces.
I was very wrong. Their so-called “swim collection” was a bunch of colorful and costly bikinis. So much for that, PINK.


Little Victoria is clearly trying to shed her good girl image.

My next stop was Pacsun. I’d never been in a Pacsun before, but I knew they carried Brandy Melville and collections by Kendall and Kylie Jenner. I clearly wasn’t expecting much.
“We have one in the back,” the salesman replied when I asked where the one-pieces were. “I think.”
My expectations weren’t getting any higher as I went to the back. There was actually a one-piece hanging in plain sight, but it was…um, something. Something clearly designed for a Crossfit trainer/rave dancer/celebrity wannabe. It was black and said “Merica” across it. I could tell the back wasn’t far from the buttcrack. Ummm…


 Top: the unhappy marriage of Beyoncé and Lana Del Rey

I didn’t try on the suit, or even get the price, because it was bound to make me look incredibly thirsty for attention, and be extremely unflattering.
I then trekked to Abercrombie and Fitch. I knew I would be out of there before I could get in, since I was not in their overly specific, overly unrealistic demographic.

I was right. There was a very small, bikini-laden section in the back, much like their younger, cooler sister Hollister.
My search was becoming more and more unsuccesful, and I had been at it for a few hours now. Then, I stumbled upon every girl’s mecca: Forever 21. The store at my mall was particularly large, so I had highish expectations.
The swimsuit section was displayed loud and proud at the front of the store near a large window.


 The land of What Might Happen if I Stop Eating Cookies 

The section here was reminiscent of H&M: large, colorful, and cheap-but only when it came to bikinis. I eventually found a monokini that I knew would not work, but I felt obligated to try it on, since I hunted for that thing.
I was literally having the exact same experience as H&M, lone monokini included. I went into the fitting room, already knowing what would happen.

The suit’s design was a little weird. It was a screen print of a picture from a beach that looked like Santa Monica with buildings in the background, sand, a blue ocean, and an even bluer sky.
There were also a lot of people on the suit. Like, you could see their faces. Were they a bunch of Forever 21 models, or was this just some random photograph? Did these people know they would be on the boobs on a prepubescent teen? Hmmm…


“I would love to have my body on a young girl’s chest!”-creepy man at the beach when they took the picture 

I finally tried on the thought-provoking suit. It was my third monokini of the day. I had already established that I wasn’t fond of that style, because it would make anyone look like some glamorous bound and gagged corpse in a punk music video. I was a total Monokin-andrist, which is a thing. Don’t argue with me.
But this one wasn’t nearly as bad as its predecessors. It was definitely more of a one-piece. The back was just hardly existent and the support was not all that great. Plus, the halter tie was bound to come undone.
On the contrary, the weird picture graphic thing was kind of growing on me, and the perfect price of $23 actually made me a little happy. But the suit was a little more revealing than it should be. It would clearly not resonate with my mom.
After Forever 21, I went to Gap, another store I’ve had hardly any experience with. But the store will probably be extinct in 5 years, so it was a good idea to go there while it lasted.
It turns out they didn’t have swimsuits at their location. Seriously, Gap?
I headed to my second department store, Nordstrom. At a store that has separate designer boutiques in it, I didn’t really think the prices would be suitable, but it was worth a try.
When I got to the ladies swimwear section, I was greeted with a very large selection of bathing suits of all different kinds, just like at Macy’s.

I found five super stylish one-pieces in the ladies section. I then went to BP, the somewhat pricey junior’s section, to see if they had anything.
A bubbly employee greeted me. I asked her where the one piece swimwear was, and she led me to a circular rack of, you guessed it, bikinis. “We do have one,” the salesgirl said.


Are one-pieces not meant for teens or something?

Seven minutes later, she resurfaced with one of the ugliest bathing suits I’d ever seen. It was light pink with neon green accents. I had to take it, since she clearly put in a lot of work finding it.


The pink suit represents me: unique but a tad out-of-place

I went into a fitting room. The first suit I tried on was a black one that was simple in the front, and had a back that was almost entirely a striped caged pattern.
The suit fit fine in the front with good-enough support, but the caged pattern sagged on my back a lot. I could see a lot of awkward striped sunburns in my future. It wasn’t worth the 68 dollars.
My next suit was another “slimming” one like they had at Macy’s. It was black, had a large amount of ruching, and had a gold zipper going down the front.
I was pleasantly surprised when I put it on. Not only was it stylish, but it fit so well. Perfect support, perfect back, perfect everything. The zipper didn’t go that far, but it wasn’t supposed to. I felt – and looked – like a fit bodybuilder.
But then, I had to consider the price. It was $158. Couponing at Macy’s was one thing, but it was another at Nordstrom. I knew the suit was out of the question, even though it was by far the best thing I’d tried on that day.
My next suit was a higher necked blue and black mesh wetsuit style with a zipper. It was extremely cute. I had seen one just like this by Zimmerman, but it was $460. This one was still expensive at $92, but if it was as good as the other one, maybe I could get my mom to buy it.
When I had the suit on, it was good, but certainly not OMG THIS IS SO PERFECT I WILL SPEND ALMOST $100 on it. For a high neck, the support was “meh,” and although I looked cute, there was no need to dent my mom’s budget for this.
My next suit was black and had a pattern that looked like geometric flowers cut out in it. The suit was most definitely meh. The support was alright, the back was fine, and the suit fit me well, but I could do better. At $138, it was a no-go.
I then tried on a white suit that had a tribal cut-out pattern. I found it to be more of a monokini since it had almost no back. The support wasn’t that great, either, and white was always a questionable color. I was not going to spend $118 on it.
I finally tried on the hideous teen suit. At $28.80 on sale, it was by far the most affordable, and the most complicated. The back was a complicated series of straps. I think it was supposed to be strapless with a cage pattern in the back, but I’m still not sure.
Although I was hesitant to leave the cute black suit, none of them worked for me.
The next store I stumbled upon was a place called Swimspot. Clearly I had high expectations for this place, because of its namesake. I just had no idea about the prices, since I’d never been there before.


Inside, I saw plenty of cute bathing suits of all different kinds. I picked out three different one pieces.
The first one was another wetsuit style in navy blue, white, and red. It was most definitely my favorite suit of the day. It was stylish, extremely flattering, very supportive, super soft and comfy, and… 108 bucks.
UGH WHY DID THE PRICE HAVE TO BE SO HIGH?! I’M NOT KIM KARDASHIAN!!!! I CAN’T JUST FORK OVER SO MUCH MONEY FOR A PIECE OF WATERPROOF FABRIC!!!!!!!
OK, sorry about that.
Downtrodden, I tried on the next suit, which was in an outlandish metallic rose gold. Perfect for my Sexy Michael Kors Watch Halloween costume. I actually found myself liking the style of the suit. It was not too revealing and had great support. It was just the color and the steep price of $124.
My final swimsuit was black with a flowy top part and rhinestones at the waist. At $198, it was probably the most expensive thing I’ve ever put on my body.
There was hardly anything on the back. It was way too revealing. I felt like J-Lo, but not in a good way.
I was very sad to leave the cute wetsuit style one piece, since it was so perfect. But I knew the price was out of the question.

I felt pretty rich trying these on

I headed over to my final stop, American Apparel. I had never been a fan of that store, since it was clearly meant for hipster twigs. Their clothes were often pretty revealing. But they always have large selections.


This is for the rich emaciated hipsters ou there.

The selection of one-pieces was actually pretty vast. There were some suits that were a clear no (monokini with an American flag pattern), but I found a few that weren’t bad.


 Fifty-er,more like one-shade of black

The first swimsuit was black and almost seemed like it had a bra built into it. I knew the support wouldn’t be bad.
I was totally wrong. It was clearly meant for a girl with very small boobs, AKA not me. I couldn’t even get it onto my chest. At $68, it was a no.
The next suit was black and had a sheer strip of fabric down the middle. The support was I fine, but you could see my boobs. Also, there wasn’t much back. The price was perfectly acceptable at $50, but it was still a bad suit.
My final swimsuit of the day was very simple. It was black with a halter neck. It also had a very low back. It was so low, that it showed my buttcrack. Although the price was good at $45, the suit was not.
It was 5:30. I knew I needed to stop looking. I had gone to 14 different stores, tried on 21 different suits, and not one was just right. They were either too revealing, too unflattering, too expensive, or too matronly.
Also, I had no idea how hard it would be to find a stylish one-piece at teen stores like Hollister and Pink. It’s very easy to craft a one piece out of your bikini fabrics.
So, from this experience, I have decided to write an open letter to all retail stores for women and girls, or at least the ones I went to.
Dear all clothing places where teenage females are likely to shop,



I have been noticing a discrepancy in your selections of swimwear for summer 2015. You have lacked one-piece swimsuits that are just right for the average American teenage girl.


By “average,” I mean a girl who is not necessarily supermodel material, wants something that flatters her, is on a budget, and doesn’t want to wear something so revealing that cat-calling is a problem, but doesn’t want to look like a granny.


You seem to cater to only skinny, sexy girls, who are allowed to wear revealing suits (which, no matter what you think about yourself, is hardly any of us) by only selling skimpy bikinis.



Look, I don’t have a perfectly flat stomach, small breasts, or an all around perfect body. A bikini is probably not a good idea for me.


Some girls are a little bigger, which is perfectly fine. If I had such a struggle looking for the perfect suit, I know others have had the same problem.

When we do find decent one-pieces, there are always some catches. The prices are always too high. I know it’s because of quality, but in reality, swimsuits are just an artful piece of waterproof fabric.


At some places, there are issues with the styles. A suit might be flattering, but it is NOT stylish for a teenager. 

Also, I have something to say about those “miracle suits” that are designed to make your stomach fat look invisible by adding way too much ruching. I know whoever designed them meant well, but having these one-pieces that promise to do this basically assumes that every person who wears a one-piece needs to rely on carefully placed ruching in order to look skinny and are too lazy to work out.

Anyways, at the “cheap stores” like H&M and Forever 21, you guys had adorable, inexpensive bikinis, which are making you guys tons of money.


It’s not hard to do the same with one-pieces. I don’t want to hear that they aren’t style: you guys have the power to make them in style! You’re the biggest thing for teenage girls at the moment. Plus, a lot more people would like you if you embraced all types of bodies. Believe me, it’s cool to do that.


So, retail stores, start selling more one-pieces for spring and summer 2016. Doing this will get you much more of a following from girls who are truly average.


If you decide not to, which will most likely be the case, then fine. You’ll just keep wrecking teenage girls’ confidence and make them feel like they can’t be stylish, much like you did for me.

Sincerely,

An average teen with an opinion who is speaking for 90 percent of the female population.