RIP Alan Rickman: Mourning in the Age of Social Media

Yesterday was one of those days that I wanted to end before it even began. Opening my eyes, I instinctively rolled over, grabbed my phone, and looked to see if I had any breaking news notifications. After skimming the numerous headlines on my lock screen, I decided it was in my best interest to roll over, go back to sleep, and hope it was all just a dream.

Alas, when I woke up, a brief 20 minutes later, I was dismayed to find out that what I had read earlier was not just a dream as I had hoped, but was in fact real. There are a few things you don’t want to read when you wake up: first, is that you did not win the Powerball Jackpot. Second, is that there was a terror attack in Jakarta, because even though it’s become almost commonplace in our world today, you still feel pain for all of those affected. Thirdly, you don’t want to find out that one of your favorite actors while growing up, Alan Rickman, died.

It’s this third event that I want to focus on for two reasons: firstly, I wasn’t expecting to win the lottery, so I didn’t even waste money buying a ticket. Secondly, it’s easier to make sense of a single death than it is to make sense of multiple deaths. I haven’t yet been able to make sense with what is going on in this world.

So, I mourn Alan Rickman, while also talking about him.

I know him best as Professor Severus Snape from ­Harry Potter. He’s the actor who brought the not-so-good, not-so-bad, morally ambiguous character to life. You can read a story so many times and still not fully understand a character. Such was the case with Snape. I didn’t love him, didn’t hate him, wasn’t quite sure how to feel about him.

And then I watched the movies. And BAM! Alan Rickman’s portrayal of Snape caused my eyes to open. I understood the character in a way I didn’t before. I understood why he did what he did. He did right things for the right reasons, right things for the wrong reasons, wrong things for the right reasons, and wrong things for the wrong reasons. I understood his actions, but I couldn’t justify them.

Which was ok, because I was still sad when (SPOILER ALERT) Snape died.

I’m even sadder now that Alan Rickman died.

Death is a private event, reserved for a party of one, but sometimes witnessed by family and close friends. Death is intimate. Mourning is public, a collective experience. Especially in the case of a beloved celebrity like Rickman. When a celebrity dies, the earth seems to stand still, like a pillar in the community has died.

The earth stands still, and people begin remembering. All my social media newsfeeds were filled with tributes to Alan Rickman. Twitter and Tumblr were perhaps the most personal, with users sharing how Rickman’s characters got them through a tough time in their life, sharing quotes of Rickman’s that mean a lot to them, sharing stories of interactions they had with Rickman by chance. Celebrities, too, got in on the collective remembrance. Those who worked with him sharing personal anecdotal memories of what it was like to work with Rickman: how funny he was, how truly he cared about the characters he portrayed, how he impacted the lives of his costars.

This sharing of memories is not just reserved for celebrities. I’ve seen it happen at funerals. When my grandfather died almost ten years ago, I distinctly remember a portion of the service reserved for neighbors and friends to share stories about him, stories I wouldn’t have heard otherwise, stories that made my grandfather a full-fledged person, and not just a person with a title: he became a man with a name, in possession of a whole identity other than “Grandfather.”

I’ve become more aware of this with my remaining grandparents, gathering stories about them from anyone who knew them when they were younger.

With celebrities, I don’t’ have that luxury—we don’t have that luxury. We don’t have the luxury of hearing stories first-hand. All we have are the roles they filled.

So we gather stories and memories anyway we can, from whoever we can—memories and anecdotes of how their roles impacted lives, but perhaps, most importantly, who the celebrity was as a person.

It’s easy to place celebrities on pedestals, forgetting they are real people with real lives, real families, real friends. We strip them of their humanity, judge them solely based on their artistry.

Collective mourning as a group, over the internet, allows family, friends, and fans to combine artistry with humanity, creating a whole person.

We forget that people aren’t immortal, sometimes we hope that our favorite people are immortal because dealing with death is difficult. Death is easy; it’s the mourning that’s painful.

I’ve found mourning to be easier when stories are shared. Perhaps Rickman himself said it best, “. . . it’s a human need to be told stories. The more we’re governed by idiots and have no control over our destinies, the more we need to tell stories to each other about who we are, why we are, where we come from, and what might be possible. Or, what’s impossible?. . .”

We tell stories to keep memories alive.

We told them yesterday; we told them today; we’ll probably keep telling them for a while.

And that’s ok.

The people who knew him best—his friends and family—have stories and memories.

We, the fans, have the characters he left behind, the memories of what they brought us through. We read books and watch movies to temporarily forget what we’re going through, to be transported somewhere else.

So, let us mourn.

We’re not only mourning Alan Rickman, the man. We’re also mourning for the characters he left behind: Hans Gruber, Colonel Brandon, the husband who bought the necklace, Severus Snape, and whoever else he had been. We mourn for the characters he never will be.

And I think there’s beauty in the way Alan Rickman was different things to different people, and how, despite the varying degrees of intimacy we may have had with him—whether personally, emotionally, or artistically—all of us are mourning at the same time.

“The pain we all feel at this dreadful loss reminds me, reminds us, that while we may come from different places and speak in different tongues, our hearts beat as one.”-Albus Dumbledore

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Just Me, My Selfie, and I

There’s 521 photos on my phone’s photo album. 1/3 of them are selfies. Now before you ask yourself, “Who does this chick think she is?” and before you think I’m vain, let me tell you about my pain.

I remember the first time I was called ‘ugly.’ I was in Kindergarten, barely old enough to understand the meaning behind the word, but old enough to feel the crater-size impression it left in my chest. And I wondered how a word I barely knew how to spell could make me feel so small. Because suddenly, I became aware of how vast the universe is, and dictionaries and encyclopedias can only tell you so much.

They can tell you a definition, but can’t help you understand the concept. Concepts have to be taught and learned. So, when I looked up the definition of ‘ugly,’ I was confused, because I thought everything was beautiful, and I didn’t understand how everybody else couldn’t think so, too. But, boy, did I learn. Because hearing the same thing over and over and over again makes you start to believe it. And no matter how untrue it may be, it eats away at your self-esteem until it’s as small as you felt the day you realized the magnitude of the universe. 

I can’t remember the second time, or the third time, or the 444th time. But I remember the first time, and I remember the worst time. (and if you know anything about me, you probably know the worst time, too.) Between the first time and the worst time I tried to swallow myself up, because then maybe I could feel bigger. But I also starved myself, because I wanted to be smaller. And when people acknowledged my existence, I would stare at the floor while my ears turned red, and my breath left my chest. And I would mumble out my answer–quickly and quietly, like the way teachers tell children to evacuate during a fire drill. Quickly and quietly.

Speak up.

Slow down.

And sometimes I still talk the same way: eyes down cast, quickly and quietly. Afraid if I take too long to answer, the person I’m talking to will realize I’m not as beautiful as I should be or want to be. And maybe they’ll see past the makeup I wear to hide my imperfections, because somehow, I got the short end of the stick in the Looks’ Department, and nobody will love me now. And that explains how I can go from self-confident to self-conscious in no time at all (especially in a dining hall that can go from empty to crowded in less time than it takes for me to realize I can’t measure up to the beautiful people I’m surrounded by). And don’t get me started on the whispers, the pointing, the stares. Ugly. Ugly. Ugly.

And this ugliness I was told I possessed turned into an ugliness I felt in every breath. I call it: Depression.

Depression isn’t always beautiful girls slicing their skin, and handsome guys fighting a glorified, heroic battle. Sometimes Depression means not wanting to get out of bed ever, because somehow your feet refuse to believe they won’t shatter on impact when they hit the ground. Nobody likes things that are broken. Sometimes Depression means doing laundry is the biggest feat of the week, and that’s ok. It doesn’t mean you’re weak. Sometimes Depression means lying on the floor, staring at the ceiling, thinking about nothing and everything, because your body is convinced it’s paralyzed. Sometimes Depression means that I, a writer at heart, can’t even string together coherent thoughts other than, “I’m trapped and drowning, and I swear I’m trying.” And people don’t want to hear the same story over and over again. But sometimes, that’s the only story I know how to tell. Sometimes Depression means every bone in your body aches, but you have to keep doing your routine, because some people still think Depression isn’t a valid disease. Sometime Depression is ignoring every text message you receive, because even though the number is right, the person they’re searching for is nowhere to be found.

And it’s days like this, days where all I want to do is lie on the floor and never move again, days where I feel the ugliest that I post selfies.

Selfies like these:

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I post selfies on my “I feel ugly” days, because they allow me to see my whole face and whole body in ways I’m not always able to. Because of selfies, I have become a regular part of the world, not always beautiful, but not always hiding my face and body. And it’s so liberating.

I post selfies, because they help me believe I’m beautiful.

I told myself the only way to be beautiful was to be someone else. Boy, was I wrong.

Hey, media. How Dare you!- A Final Project

For my Adolescent Literature Class, one of the choices for our final project was a personal project in which we could focus on a particular part of adolescent literature or culture that is of interest to us. So, naturally, I chose the way media affects society and teenagers today. But, also, we learned a lot about finding your voice, and for a long time, I had lost my voice. For a long time, I had no idea how to tell anybody about the battle that was raging on in my head. And then one day, I started to write. I found my voice. So, I share my story. And I won’t be silenced again.

The media affects society in so many ways–some good, some bad.

 And I know many blog posts and articles have been written on this topic before. I am not the first, nor will I be the last. But, I think it’s important to talk about. I think it’s important to talk about, because we hear things like, “this is how the media affects her…” “this is how the media is affecting our teens…” but, we hardly ever hear, “this is how the media affects ME.”

Therefore…

This is how the media affects me:

“I was raised in a society that taught girls how to protect themselves from sexual assault, but didn’t teach guys how to not rape. Fat lot of good that did me.

I was raised in a society where beauty is found in Photoshop and good lighting. And even though society’s beginning to change, I think it’s too late for my generation.

It’s too late for those who have already starved themselves to the point of hospitalization. It’s too late for those who have killed themselves because the pressures of society were too much. It’s too late for those who have already created enough scars on their skin to map the constellations in the sky.” – Open Letter to Society

That is how the media affects me.

It affects me because I don’t fit the societal standards of beauty. It affects me because I’ve been sexually assaulted. It affects me because I struggle with Depression. It affects me because I’m a teenager, and my mind is so impressionable.

It affects me for all the reasons it should affect me: I’m not a model.

I’m not perfect.

But, then again, neither are the models, neither are half of the people in images we are exposed to every minute of every day. And I know this. I’ve read the articles. I’ve seen the statistics. I’ve watched the YouTube videos of how Photoshop is used to enhance, erase, fix, perfect the imperfect.

And I still compare myself to all the images I see.

I compare, and I lose every time. I want to be them. So, I’ve learned the tricks on how to take “the most perfect selfie.” I’ve learned which way to face the camera to capture my ‘good side,’ by which I mean, hiding the side of my face with the most imperfections. I’ve learned how to tilt my head at just the right angle to hide my double chin. I’ve learned the best filters to use, the lighting that suits me best, and the way to do my make-up just right to make my eyes pop. I’ve also learned the best way to pose for photographs to hide the extra pounds on my body.
But, I also have mastered the way to get rid of the extra pounds: starving myself. And I know I’m not the only one. I’m not the only one in my group of friends who have felt as though the beauty standards of society were so hard to achieve, the only way to get half-way there is to starve themselves.

I felt that way. So, for five years I nitpicked every calorie. For five years I only ate on days I felt I deserved it–days I deemed myself worthy enough for food–which, let me tell you, were few and far between.

And it did nothing for my self-esteem. Starving myself did nothing to alleviate how depressed I felt about being me. It made me feel worse, because when you compare yourself to fake images over and over again, you will lose. Every single time.

I was having a conversation with a pre-teen friend of mine once. She mentioned how she thought she was ugly, because she didn’t look like anybody in magazines. I told her, the girl in the magazine doesn’t look like the girl in the magazine.

And I realized I need to stop comparing myself. Society can call me ugly if it wants, because if pretty is having flawless skin, zero fat, perfect straight white teeth, and perfect hair, I’ll stick with what I’ve got.

I’m not condemning the use of Photoshop in the media, because I’ve Instagrammed the heck out of some of my photos. But, I’ve also taken and posted many photos of me au natural. And I applaud the celebrities who are doing the same. I applaud the celebrities who show their bare skin–imperfections and all.

Because teenagers are impressionable, and they will believe what they are told and shown. We are teaching them, you taught me, that true beauty is found in Photoshopped images where fat is sucked out, scars and blemishes are air-brushed, teeth are straightened and whitened, lighting is manipulated, and eyes are brightened.

Because, yes, that’s one form of beauty. But we also need to teach our teenagers that beauty is also found in the confidence to accept how you look, flaws and all. Wearing make-up and fancy clothes is a choice, and only belongs to the person whose body it affects, whose appearance it alters.

So, no. I’m no model. But I will continue to take horrible, ugly, selfies. Because I’m beautiful, despite what the media says.