Do You Want To Be On Top?

**Plays “I’ve Got a Dream,” from Tangled, as opener to this post…**

In May 2013, my older sister was a Junior at SF State, majoring in Apparel Design and Merchandising. For one of her projects, she had to design two outfits that would be presented at a fashion showcase. A lot of her classmates worked with strangers that classified themselves as, “models.” In her mind, why would she need a random model she didn’t know when she had me? A younger sister who basically had no choice but to be said “model?” She guilt tripped me about how it would be easier for her if I were the model so I could try it on and get fitted anytime she needed to make adjustments or measurements. Of course I wanted to support her with her passion projects and school work, but damn this bitch had me fucked up. I remember thinking… “Wtf, I really need to stand infront of a couple hundred people and walk on a fuckin’ runway? …bye.” The only plus side that I could see in this situation was the fact that I got to miss a day of class when the fashion showcase day were to come. I was a senior in high school who had a bad case of senioritis, but never had the balls to skip. Nevertheless, I was so embarrassed just thinking about it… ME?! WALKING DOWN A RUNWAY?!

I pull up these pictures now and I almost laugh out loud, as I’m at least 35 pounds heavier. But at the time, I was stressing and under pressure about my appearance. Although I knew months in advance that I’d be walking down a runway, no amount of time could prepare me for this almost embarrassing moment. I felt like I was going to make myself look like Boo Boo Tha Damn Foo walking down that runway. And for those reasons, I seesawed with my diet. One day I’d be watching what I ate, and then another day I would fall into a pit of self pity and eat my frustrations, in the form of hot cheetos. Long story short, I was never consistent with my attempts at trying to “lose weight,” “improve my figure,” “get runway ready,” or whatever the hell I was trying to do. This was also a very crucial point in my life in regards to my body dysmorphia and my struggle with my weight, however, that’s another blog post that I do plan on sharing soon 😉. Let’s just say I was truly struggling with how I viewed my body and went about it in a very unhealthy way.

I practiced day after day in those cheap uncomfortable heels that I got for like $20 in the Mission. I walked up and down the hallway in my house, trying to sell the outfit, but at the same time making sure I don’t fall and eat shit. When it comes to heels I literally can’t. All aboard the mess express, because that’s me in heels. I even put resistant patches on the bottom of my heels to make me feel more secure. I played in my mind all the things that could possibly go wrong, from falling, to passing out, even thinking if under the runway lights my underwear would be visible through the dress material. The thing that bothered me the most was the fact that I could see my belly button through the dress. And for that reason, I practiced walking in heels while sucking in my gut. So, I had to practice walking without falling, walking fiercely, but also achieve that by not breathing.

As the days loomed closer I think I had the mentality of “let’s just get this over with already.” At this point I already exhausted myself with anxiety and insecurities. I was just ready for it to be done with.

When we got to the practice run at the fashion showcase, I was starting to get excited that I would be the body to show off my sister’s designs. But I did notice something. I was one of the verrrrryyyy few “models” of color, probably the shortest, and definately the biggest. It seemed like all these women were atleast 5’10 without heels. I felt so out of place. Insecurities came back, though they never left. For a high schooler struggling with body image and weight, this seemed like the worst place to be.

All these tall, thin, “professional” models changing clothes openly infront of everyone is what got me cringing. The “changing room” was basically the back of the venue, outdoors and gated. They put up a tent where some could change more privately, but there were atleast 200 models. It was so crowded in that little open area that models would come right to the back after just walking off the runway and quickly disrobe to put on the next outfit to get back out there. When I put on my first outfit, I shyly went in the tent and made sure that I put it on as discreet as possible. You know, like when you’re in high school and you’re trying to change in the women’s locker room after swimming class? Like that.

When it was the real deal and the fashion showcase started, I could feel my heart pounding, my breathing picked up, and I felt like passing out. When it was finally my turn to walk down that runway, I faked it till I made it. Faked the confidence, faked the smile, faked my stomach and sucked that shit in. I didn’t fall. All eyes were on me, but at the moment I didn’t care. I walked off the stage exhilarated. I quickly met my sister for my dress change. I immediately started taking off my dress, left in my underwear and bra, scrambling to get into the next outfit.

“Marinelle what the hell,” my sister laughed but was also confused as to why I was doing it out in the open. At that point I was there all day, probably more than 9 hours. My feet hurt, I was tired, I was hungry, and most of all, I didn’t care anymore. I saw stares from the other “models” as I changed into my other dress with no shame. Some probably thinking “yo0o0o0o0, the nerve.” But I embraced it. I liked the fact that I was serving looks, but most importantly, that I was different.

A year later, my sister had her senior final project where she had to come up with multiple looks. My little sister, my 2 friends, my older sister’s co-worker, and I were my sister’s models. My little sister refused to be in it. In a way I saw myself in her. She was complaining about the same things I was just a year before. But I was telling her how cool it was, how it’s all in her head, and guilt tripped her on how we should be supporting our sister.

What I was insecure about a year prior turned out to be what I was most proud of. Being a “model” with my sister and friends made me prideful. I took pride in knowing that I was the thick Filipino chick who totally wasn’t a model. I took pride in the fact that we were a group of women of color who stood out from the rest. I took pride in the fact that I was in a space some would believe I don’t belong.

After the 2nd fashion showcase (where I wasn’t trippin as hard), my parents were smiling ear to ear. They were proud of my older sister for making all those clothes, and proud of all of us for coming through for her.

“Bigay ng bigay,” my mom and dad told me laughing. In bay area translation: I was givin it/ giving it my all/ doing the most. As I should’ve. The 2nd year was a totally different experience than the 1st. The 2nd year I embraced what made me different. I got more political and defensive with my insecurities and turned them into positives.

But I bet you’re thinking, “But why is ‘I’ve Got a Dream,’ from Tangled playing in the backgroud?”

I think it was this experience (and my later self-discovering moments in college) that made me have the far fetched dream of being a plus sized writing model. You know, like I get discovered for my body positive writing pieces and my radical views of realness, that I’m featured in a magazine or something 🤣. Sidenote, I’ve thought about posting “real” photos like a lot of body positive influencers I follow, but I personally feel weird posting half nude photos of myself. Power to the females that do though ✊🏽 I respect and appreciate models and influencers who put their real unedited photos up for people to see that beauty comes in all shapes, sizes, and colors. But most importantly, highlighting parts of their bodies that society has labeled as “unattractive.”

I realized that I was so insecure of my size because I never seen someone that looks like me on TV or anything model related. I told my cousin, “What if one day I get discovered for modeling, think of it, plus-sized Filipino model, we’re underrepresented!” Unedited, gut out, stretch marks, blemishes, all the above. Even pulling up these old photos from 2013 made me feel some type of way. Like I said, I’m probably AT LEAST 35 pounds heavier. But I got to remind myself that weight does not define me. In fact, I was in a pretty dark place at the time when I was at my smallest. The backstory will be a future blog post.

That “modeling” experience helped me take the first steps to self-acceptance and self-love. Even though the journey is still continuing to this day. 💖 Embrace what makes you different!!!

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Analyzing My Instagram

I made this video of myself where I analyze my Instagram feed and ask myself the questions: Why am I posting this? How do I want people to perceive me? How do I accomplish the image I’m trying to portray on social media? Is my social media accurate with what’s going on in my real life? I analyzed my Instagram and came up with 5 things about me that I try to reflect online. I’ve realized that I really want people to know that 1. I’m a writer, 2. I have a blog, 3. I’m obsessed with J.Cole, 4. I’m from the Bay Area, and 5. I’m a body positive advocate and a feminist. I’ve provided screenshots from my actual Instagram profile to be completely open and truthful, but to also show what specific pictures and posts I’m talking about.

I thought it was important to dissect social media in particular because it’s such a big part of our lives. I personally think that people try so hard to uphold a certain image online, and at times, it can be very detrimental to ourselves and others. We tend to compare our lives to those around us, and if all we see are curated, happy, “I’m livin’ my best life,” photos all the time, it can leave some viewers feeling like they need to measure up to something unachievable. It’s like a competition of “Who has the better life?” It’s more common to see happy pictures and moments posted up on the ‘gram, rather than in-depth self-reflecting posts. I’ve written a couple stories on social media and the effects it has on people and how they view themselves. And I’ve found that social media tends to make people feel worse about themselves- whether that be their appearance, their self-esteem, their jobs, their life decisions, or their life in general. Social media is so readily available to view, but this also opens the door for constant criticism and comparing. People are so fixed on broadcasting certain aspects of their lives, but you will never really know the entirety of someone’s life through social media. You’ll just know what they want you to know, what they choose to show you. Like I said in my video, it’s like playing mind games with your followers. It’s not like we’re doing anything malicious, but it’s still trying to persuade your audience to view you in a certain way.

When I was analyzing my Instagram and asking myself these questions as to why I posted them, and what image I’m trying to project, I had my moment. One of those self-reflecting moments where you’re sitting there trying to make sense of everything, and all of a sudden the stars align and everything makes sense and you hit enlightenment. Just kidding, it wasn’t that deep. But I really had a moment of clarity, where I’m like, “ohhhhh…. Ok, so that’s what I’m trying to show, because X, Y, Z.” I think that’s what’s really important. The why behind what we post. What’s the motive? What is it accomplishing? Is the explanation as to why I post things detrimental, or a toxic way of thinking? I believe self-reflecting this way can help someone see their real motives. When I was recording myself talking about why I post things, I felt a little embarrassed to give my “why.” Only because we’re so used to uploading things with a witty or meaningful caption, but never the reason behind posting.

You’ll only know what they want you to know, is what I’m leaving with after this video. Even if someone documents their everyday life regularly, you’ll never really know someone’s truth just by their social media accounts. I was scrolling through my profile and chuckled in my brain a little. Yeah, y’all know I’m a writer, I broadcast it all over and post up my work consistently. But did you know that I’m actually very insecure about posting my work? Did you know that I sometimes wonder if I should even post it up because I have that doubt of, “who will even care?” Yeah, I have a blog. But did you know that I only made it because a class required me to? And did you know that I wanted to make a blog before that but never had the courage to do it? Did you know I kept the blog a secret- aside from those in my class- for about 6 months because I wasn’t confident enough to publicize it? Yeah, J.Cole is my favorite artist of all time… Actually, there’s no revelation for this point, haha. I fuck with J.Cole and I don’t care if you get annoyed of my J.Cole posts J . Yeah, I’m from the Bay Area and proud! But did you know that I constantly beat myself up over the fact that I probably have to live and settle down somewhere else because of how ridiculously expensive it is here? Did you know that I see the neighborhoods that I grew up in changing, and that it makes me really sad? Yeah, I identify as a body positive advocate and feminist. But did you know that I still have those days where I struggle to accept my body? Were you aware that I am so passionate about this topic that I cried in front of my whole class when pitching a body positive podcast idea to a well-known podcaster? Probably not. And that’s my point.

There is so much more to you that your audience will never know. You are the only person that can figure out your why. I’m putting this out there in hopes that someone views it and it changes them, or impacts them in a positive way. I hope that if anyone decides to analyze their own social media, and they realize they’re posting for toxic behaviors, that they reflect on it and find peace within themselves.

Helping The Family

Maya and Julian met in middle school. In fact, Maya was Julian’s playful bully. She would make fun of him because he had a thick accent because he had just moved to San Francisco from the Philippines.

They ended up going to the same high school, Lowell High, and kind of stopped talking. Until freshman year at a homecoming dance, Julian attempted to dance with Maya. She felt awkward and to this day still doesn’t know why she felt the need to tell him he couldn’t dance. Embarrassed, Julian avoided her at school from then on- even at the bus stop!

Around junior year in high school the two started to talk again and Maya had asked Julian 1 year in advance to be a rose in her debut. He accepted, and Maya swears that’s when he first started to have a crush on her.

Senior year prom season came around and the first person Maya thought to bring was Julian. She felt comfortable around him since they had a long history together. They’ve been together ever since.

It was not always easy though. They are both Filipino, and had to keep their relationship a secret for a while since some Filipino parents are very strict on dating. But Julian’s dad suffered some complications and Maya drove him to the hospital.

“I first met Tito Dante when he was admitted to the hospital, at the time they all knew me as Julian’s friend, and I drove them late nights to the hospital as well, since Julian couldn’t drive,” Maya said. “Julian always reminds me that he’s appreciative since I was there when it was hard for his family. He also helped me when my dad had a stroke too. We really grew together by helping each other and our families.”

Now both families know that they a re officially  a couple, even though it was never formally said to Julian’s family. It’s sort of a taboo topic that they just don’t bring up but still acknowledge that she is his significant other.
“Both of our families always remind us that finishing college is important,” Maya said. “It’s the Filipino culture lol: no boyfriend/girlfriend until you finish school. But for Julian and I, I feel like we got together for a reason, It’s cliche I know, but seriously I wouldn’t be able to do/ get through the things I did or accomplish the things I did without him. And I know the same thing applies to him.”

Cheering Them On

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Abdallah first met Gabriella on the SFSU cheer team. At first, Abdallah was interested in someone else who encouraged him to join the team. However, things kicked off for Abdallah and Gabriella 2 months later where they went to a cheerleading competition in LA and had to share a bed. On the car ride home, they sat next to each other and talked the whole way through. When they got back to San Francisco Abdallah asked if he could take her on an official date. The rest is pretty much history.

Abdallah is Filipino and Egyptian, so his father is strongly against him dating Gabriella because their religion. But Gabriella’s family is accepting of Abdallah. Her mom adores him.It was hard for Gabriella because she at least wanted his father to meet her first and then make judgement from there, but he is against the whole relationship.

While living at home, Abdallah was tired of having to be home by a certain time because of his parents’ strict rules. He told his father face to face that he was dating Gabriella, and his dad was not having it.
“So we were both taking about moving out, but not with one another,” Abdallah said. “By now we’ve been dating for a year or more. We both had our own group of people we were going to move in with but both our plans just started to fall out. Before we knew it we were the only 2 people and ended up moving in together.”

Telling his parents was not easy. His dad was furious that he was moving out, and on top of that with the girlfriend that did not share the same religion as them. His dad refused to talk to him or a few weeks, and Abdallah didn’t want to talk to him either because his dad wasn’t calm.

It has been a few months since he has moved out and his relationship with his dad has gotten better. His dad wants him to move back home, but Abdallah is on the fence because he wants to save money if he were to move back home, but the couple both feel like it would be a step back from all the progress they accomplished already.

Abdallah and Gabriella are both totally in love with each other. So whatever happens with the living situation, they are confident they will make it work.

When I asked Abdallah what he would do if his parents never accepts the relationship and are not supportive in the future if they want to get married he said, “If I want to marry her, I’m gonna marry her.”

Sac State

“We both worked at sprouts doing crap jobs while in school,” Laurelyn said when I asked  how her and Christian met.”Then we both quit…we started dating after being friends for a little. Christian really wanted to be a cop and get his bachelors but school stressed him out hella hard. I don’t want to sound like I’m giving myself too much credit but I am a super good student and I feel like it rubbed off on him. But mostly he just hella wanted to be a cop so he pushed through. And now we are going to Sac!”

Christian and Laurelyn have been together for almost 3 years. They first started dating when Laurelyn was 18 and Christian was 22. Since they’ve been together, both have been pushing themselves to transfer out of the Petaluma community college and into a 4 year college.

Finally that time has come. Fall 2016 Christian and Laurelyn will be moving to Sacramento to attend Sac State together. They’re excited to get a place together.

“Christian really wanted to go to sac for their criminal justice program and I’m just hitching along since I didn’t really care where I went,” Laurelyn said. “We’ve been dating for almost three years so I’m definitely ready to move out and have our own space. It’s definitely going to be weird though and it’s a big step. We will probably get in more fights…but in a good way of that makes sense. My parents are totally cool with it. They love Christian. Probably the only thing they aren’t thrilled with is that I’m tagging along and not going to one of the better colleges for my major. But honestly I don’t care I don’t want to do long distance period.”

Laurelyn’s parents love Christian but like she said, they aren’t thrilled that she didn’t pick a school based on her major but more so that she didn’t have to be away from Christian. His parents on the other hand would prefer that he be with Laurelyn. They are thrilled that he has made it to a 4 year college and has Laurelyn there for support. Christian’s family adores Laurelyn, she gets along with all his cousins and his aunts and uncles love her. She has really been his saving grace.

Laurelyn’s biggest fear is the grocery list. Christian has an appetite of about 3 grown men and will down any meal with no remorse. She joked (or maybe she’s serious) that they would have separate grocery lists and she would label which food is hers in the fridge. Other than that, They’re so excited to start this new chapter in their lives.

Christian took a while to pick a major and follow through with it, while balancing out school, work, and a social life. So now finally transferring to a 4 year college, he is ready to move out of the house. And he’s even happier that his roommate will be someone he loves and who has helped push him.

So what’s next after they graduate? Laurelyn said her parents are already asking Christian when they’re going to get married. Lol stay tuned for a possible part 2 blog post on these 2 lovers!

Mr. & Mrs. Cruz

Amberly and JT met and started dating when they were 16. The first time JT met Amberly he told his friend, “I’m gonna marry her.” Through many bumps in the road, they managed to stay together because their love for each other was stronger than the outside drama that was going on around them.

On their 8 year anniversary, JT popped the question, and in 2012, they officially became Mr. and Mrs. Cruz.

They waited a little over a year after getting married to start trying for a baby. On Thanksgiving 2014 they announced to their families that they were expecting.

Devastating news hit Amberly and JT when the doctor informed them that their baby girl was developing a mass in her lungs. At that point Amberly was still pregnant and blaming herself. She was thinking it was because of her that the baby had a mass in her lungs, she thought maybe it was something she ate or her trip to the Philippines that caused it.

Aly was born June 2015, and February 2016 she got the surgery regarding the mass in her lungs. She is happy, healthy, and always smiling.

“It was amazing to see how the roles changed between us,” Amberly said. “We’ve been together for almost 13 years and I was always the “strong one”… Like I’d know what to do or say in a situation and usually be the one to keep JT at ease. But when I found out Aly had a mass in her lungs and will need surgery, I was a mess! I was (and still am) constantly worrying/ paranoid. JT was my rock throughout everything. He listened to me, consoled me, and even handled the paperwork for her surgery, usually I handle everything but it was too much for me.”

Having a baby brought the couple closer together, and when life tested them, they stood by each other and consoled one another. The birth of their daughter has brought so much joy to their lives.

“It was really comforting to see the change in JT,” Amberly said. “Usually he’s quiet and I have to be the one to ALWAYS be strong. It was nice to let my emotions flow and have my husband be my rock throughout everything. As corny as it sounds, we are a team and I’m really lucky to have such a strong support system.”

The Photograph

**Nancy, I know you said to focus on people that I don’t know, but I promise I will do that AFTER this post… this is a story I HAVE to tell.**

My dad’s mom died over 50 years ago in the Philippines while giving birth to her 8th child. Unfortunately my grandma and aunt both passed away. My grandpa was left with 7 kids, 2 of which were under the age of 7.

Decades passed and my grandpa was alone. He is now 92 years old, going on 93 this July. A little over 10 years ago he remarried. For so long he was alone and single, longing for companionship.

My family, aunts & uncles, & their kids that are free, go to my grandpa and step-grandma’s house every other Sunday. It’s a great way for the family to remain close and for my grandpa to see his kids, grandchildren, and great grandchildren.

One Sunday my aunt brought old pictures. She showed me and my cousins our grandmother, who none of us ever got to meet. My aunt was saying how she thinks she looks so much like her mother and how her other 2 sisters also share some features. There are only a couple of photos I’ve seen of my grandma, so my first thought was to take a picture of the photo.

My grandpa wasn’t really paying attention, he’s 92, so he’s always just chillin’ minding his business. My sisters and I like to show our grandpa pictures on our phone of him from previous events or ones we take right in front of him. He thinks it’s so cool how technology has advanced and still can’t believe that we can take pictures of him on our phones. Every time we show him his picture he starts laughing surprised like “that’s me!”

Anyways, I took out my phone and pulled up the picture of my grandma. I showed it to him and his reaction made me happy and sad all at the same time. Seeing her picture made him eagerly grab my phone out of my hand.

Staring at her picture he said to me in Tagalog, “Where’d you get this? Do you know who this is? It’s grandma.”

Other than when he complains about his back hurting, my grandpa is usually just chill and observant at get togethers. So when he reacted so surprised to see the picture, it touched my heart, because I could only imagine all the memories that photo brought back.

I think that’s a whole other level of love. To lose someone so tragically, and to be alone for so long, to get remarried, but to be so excited to see an old photo made me really happy. I can only imagine what he felt when he saw that picture, but I know that’s exactly how I would want someone to look at an old photograph of me. 20141109_190624

The photo above is the exact photo I showed my grandpa.