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How One Artist Is Working To Make The Equal Rights Amendment A Reality

Radar
Photo courtesy of Natalie White

The U.S. Constitution has some unfinished business

It's 2016 and the current frontrunner to be the 45th president of the United States of America is not a man, but women in this country still face massive systemic inequalities. Problems like wage inequality, gender-based discrimination, poor or even no access to adequate health care, and sexual harassment still run rampant in our society. Even though the rights of women have come a long way since granted the right to vote in 1920, there is clearly a lot of work to be done to advance the cause of true equality. It's inspiring to live in a time when President Barack Obama writes a paean to strong women and declares himself to be a feminist, but there's still room for improvement, so that young girls in this country know to look up to, as Obama so beautifully put it, the Tubmans, and not just the Benjamins.

One way in which our country can take a step toward true equality is via the passing of the long-proposed Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). First drafted in 1923 by Alice Paul and Crystal Eastman, the ERA was finally passed by Congress in 1972, before being sent to the 50 states to be ratified in order to meet the understandably arduous requirements in place to enact change upon the U.S. Constitution. Unfortunately, the ERA fell three states short of the required 38 needed to ratify it and has thus hung in limbo ever since. Despite being annually reintroduced to Congress, it has yet to pass.

In recent years, many celebrities, like Meryl Streep and Patricia Arquette, have attempted to get the ERA passed, and now an artist named Natalie White has picked up this political mantle. White, who has served as a model and muse for artists like Peter Beard, had a gallery show in New York earlier this summer in which she dealt with explicitly political themes, all in keeping with her fight to ratify the ERA. White also staged a 250-mile, 15-day walk from New York City to Washington, D.C., this July in order to raise awareness for her cause. We spoke with White the day after she completed her walk about the Equal Rights Amendment, what inspired her to walk 250 miles, and what she wants to happen next in the fight for gender equality.

What got you interested in reviving the fight for the Equal Rights Amendment?
When I found out about the huge gender wage gap, I was so shocked and thought it couldn’t possibly be true that white women make 78 cents on the dollar compared to white men, black women make only 64 cents, and Latina women only make 54 cents. I thought it was shocking and it had to be a lie. When I found out it wasn’t, I did my research about why we got to the place we did in the United States. And one of the main reasons we got there is because the Equal Rights Amendment never passed. So I started asking around, especially asking older women, why it hadn’t passed. And a lot of people thought it had! Or they thought that we were protected by the 14th Amendment, but in fact, the Equal Protection Clause has not been used to help women at all. We are not a protected class of people. So I decided I had to do something about this, and I’m lucky enough that my art has given me a platform, and I’m lucky enough to be successful at selling and showing it; if I didn’t use my platform to start to talk about discrimination against women, I’d feel like, why do I even have this?

Have you always been politically involved?
I’ve done protests at anti-nuclear groups. I’ve protested drug laws that are ridiculous, but I’ve never really been active. I’ve just shown up at protests and supported it. This is the first time I was ever in a leadership role.

What was the idea behind doing the 250-mile march?
It was to show the struggle and show that people are really serious about this. Like, I’m so serious about this cause that I’m doing this march. We’re going to walk 250 miles in July from New York to D.C. when it’s hot outside, and I’m willing to do that. I think that people really need to see this because they are so incredibly passionate about this. There are so many different organizations out there that are bringing up really valid points, but women’s issues have been neglected for so long, and I wanted to show people that, hey, there is a group of people out here who are so furious that they’re willing to walk from New York to D.C. And we’re going to have parties and events and inform people about this.

How was the actual walk? What were some of the best and most difficult moments that you experienced over its 15-day course? 
The most difficult experience was in New Jersey when I was walking across a bridge. I have really bad vertigo and I’m really scared of heights, and it was one of those bridges with grates on the bottom where you can see through all the way to the water. And there was water but there were also all these cars going back and forth. I was going across the bridge, and I’m thinking to myself that I’m going to make it all the way, I’m not going to get nervous, I’m not going to lose my head. But I get halfway through, to the middle of the bridge, and all of a sudden fear kicks in and I start getting a panic attack. I had already started going slower because I thought if I was going slow I would be less likely to get scared. But then I just fell to the ground and started crawling on my hands and knees in the middle of the bridge, and my friends were ahead because I didn’t want to bother them, and so they didn't see me. I was just crawling across this bridge on my hands and knees until I got to this metal panel and I crawled up it so I could stand up, and I’m swaying back and forth, and my knees are shaking, and I stay there for seven minutes before my friends noticed that I wasn’t around and came back for me. So that was a pretty bad moment!

The best time… this one day we hit 25 miles, and we weren’t even in pain. We felt like superheroes. Like we could keep going to Miami. And this was after we had done 15 miles the day before and the day before that we’d done 20. The day we hit 25 we felt like we could do anything. 

That’s such a great metaphor for what you’re trying to accomplish politically; like you have to keep going for it and keep pushing and you don’t even know what you’re capable of until you start doing it.
Thank you. It’s like more impossible things have happened on this earth than people reviving a constitutional amendment. That we should have equal rights for women in the United States—for all people in the United States—should be a no-brainer. 

What's next for you post-march? Where do you see your fight going next?
We can’t stop until this amendment is passed through. Contact your congresspeople. Nobody is going to give this to us. We’re going to have to take it. We’re going to have to force people to vote yes on this issue or we’re not going to vote for them. I’m not going to stop the fight. This is just the beginning. We’re not asking for something more than anyone else, just for something equal.

To find out more about Natalie White's fight for equal rights, visit her site: NatalieWhiteforEqualRights.org.

Nail polish is for novices

Fashion label The Blonds is known for its high-intensity looks that you'd only wear if you wanted to stand out (and who doesn't?). For its runway shows, wild press-on nails are the beauty step that can't be missed. So, since the brand has partnered with CND since it was founded, we thought it best to get prepped for the show with Jan Arnold, CND's co-founder.

See why you should take your nail look from a zero to a 10, in the video above.

Credits:
Shot by Charlotte Prager
Edited by Gretta Wilson
Produced by Alexandra Hsie
Production Assistant: Polina Buchak
Featuring Jan Arnold of CND Nails and The Blonds

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Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.

It would've been nice if someone said the word "fat"

Back in November, Rebel Wilson claimed to be the first plus-sized lead in a romantic comedy when she appeared on Ellen to talk about her role in Isn't It Romantic. Wilson was not only wrong, but she was—even if inadvertently—erasing the work of Black plus-size actresses like Queen Latifah and Mo'Nique, both of whom have expansive resumes that include romantic comedies.

Wilson's comment isn't the first example of white women taking up a little too much space in the fat acceptance ethos. It's actually quite common. But there is a reason why women like Wilson—women who are blonde, pretty, successful, and white—get put front and center in calls for body positivity. In the same way that feminism—the movement from which body positivity was born—has often failed to address how gender intersects with other identities like race and class; so, too, has body positivity been championed as a cause for otherwise privileged women. And that's why it's no surprise that Isn't It Romantic, which aspires to be both a spot-on mockery of rom-coms and a celebration of body positivity, is actually a perfect example of how very white both the movie genre and the body positivity movement tend to be.

In the film, Wilson plays Natalie, an architect based in New York, who is single and plus-sized—the archetypal rom-com underdog. Very early on in the movie, she endures the double humiliation of both being hit by a runaway food cart and then accosted by its owner for not stopping it with her "cement truck"-like body. At work, Natalie is similarly disrespected: The office manager hands off troubleshooting tasks to Natalie; another colleague always tasks Natalie to throw out his trash; her assistant Whitney (Betty Gilpin) won't stop watching movies (rom-coms, naturally) while in the office; and Natalie is so afraid to present her ideas for more innovative parking garage designs that she isn't even widely known in the firm as an architect, and is treated like an intern.

But is Natalie just a doormat? Or is it that she isn't asking for what she wants? And isn't very nice about not getting it? If Natalie's life is any example, the bar on suffering is set pretty low for white women. In her personal life, Natalie lives alone with her dog, and seems to be pretty well-off, financially; her best friend is actually her slacker assistant, Whitney, and she's close with another coworker, Josh (Adam Devine), who gives Natalie constant emotional support. She's decidedly anti-romantic, having been told by her mother from a young age that there's no such thing as real-life fairy tales; she's level-headed and practical. But also, she's filled with self-loathing. This leads her to be crass, sarcastic, and disconnected from people. And it was this last part that was hard for me. As a fat Black woman who grew up broke, does not have an assistant, and would get fired if I didn't do my job well, it was hard, if not impossible, to root for her.

For Natalie, though, everything changes when she bangs her head while fighting off a mugger. Her mundane life is tinted through rosy rom-com glasses. Suddenly, all the things that sucked about her life are gone, and everything is beautiful and perfect. But was her life so bad before? It didn't really seem to be.

And yet, looking around the theater at the mostly white, female audience, I accepted that my feelings didn't seem to be shared. But that almost seems to be by design; this feels like a movie for a white, female audience. There is only one person of color in the movie who even has a name: It's Isabelle (Priyanka Chopra), who shows up about halfway through the film—after everything has been rom-com filtered—as a yoga ambassador and swimsuit model. But a name is all Isabella has. A supporting character at best, she doesn't have any connection to anyone other than her white boyfriend, and is sketchily drawn. We learn nothing of her familial or ethnic background, and, even when she is shown at her wedding, there is nobody from her family celebrating with her. This huge oversight is particularly bizarre, given that Natalie has already bemoaned the lack of diversity in romantic films.

Another huge oversight? The presence of the word "fat." I don't think I heard it used a single time. Natalie only references her weight indirectly, by commenting on the appearance of straight-sized women; when talking about her own body, the word "fat" is replaced with "girl like me." But by ignoring this aspect of herself, and refusing to address it head-on, Natalie is succumbing to the same fatphobia that shapes her world, whether she identifies it as being a problem or not.

Before her life becomes a rom-com, Natalie feels invisible at work and in the world. Some of this is certainly her fault, but fatphobia is also at play. Fatphobia chips away at the humanity of fat people from different angles. It means that Natalie gets used to being dehumanized; she doesn't expect others to have empathy for her when she's physically hurt, because they don't value her body. And it's no coincidence that Natalie's fantasy world includes a magically bigger apartment with unlimited clothing options, because discrimination against fat people isn't just a matter aesthetics and preferences—it affects everything from our ability to dress ourselves to our ability to make and save money, since there's a price to pay for being fat, even if it's just having to pay more to travel. Just as much as gender and race intersect with fat bodies, so, too, do economics and class.

I knew I could count on a plus-sized white comedian to take down a genre of films that prioritized thin women. But I ventured to see if Wilson could go further than that, and challenge what it means to be white and well-off and fat in the process; it isn't just about taking down rom-coms but about doing so in a way that isn't just a mouthpiece for white feminist values. But, in the end, that isn't what happened. Isn't It Romantic is fine, but it needed to do more than target an audience of girls who are 10 to 30 pounds overweight and still too jolted by the word "fat" to ever apply it to themselves, so they go for acceptable alternatives, like curvy, plus-sized—or thicc, if they're hip. But I'm not afraid to say I'm fat, I'm just disappointed I will be waiting even longer to see a realistic reflection of that experience onscreen.

Isn't It Romantic is in theaters now.