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On Astrology, Tarot, And The Healing Power Of “Bullshit”

Culture
Collage by Danielle Moalem

The stars are blind

For as long as we’ve been human, we’ve looked to the stars for guidance. Their role in our lives serves as a sort of bellwether: At first, when our needs were straightforward, they steered us in a literal sense, guiding us through forests and across oceans; then, when we decided we needed more to live for, they gave us our gods. But we’ve moved beyond these things, and we no longer need our purpose defined by burning balls of gas some trillions of miles away. Instead, we now expect the stars to decipher the greatest mystery of all: our inner selves.

In a way, the recent renaissance of astrology and its sister practices—tarot, witchcraft, the care and keeping of crystals—is the ultimate exercise in millennial narcissism. Who are we to presume that the earth, or the sky, or an illustrated pack of cards, should be preoccupied with revealing ourselves to us? Detractors often grow their critiques from this initial kernel, that it is selfish and impractical to imagine that the universe has designed blueprints with each of us in mind. "Do you really believe, my skeptical friends," ask, "that astrology and tarot are real?"

My answer is always the same: "Does it matter?"

I am a millennial in crisis. While navigating adulthood, I have struggled both to determine what I want from the world and to define my place in it. Horoscopes and tarot readings are seductive because they promise an answer. But in order to access that answer, psychic tools ask a small but critical price: They require us to think and talk about our feelings. The true magic of divination rests not in its link to the cosmos but in the way it empowers us to open up to ourselves. “I don’t think it really matters if it’s scientifically proven to be real or not. I think what matters is somebody’s relationship to it and it being used as a tool,” says Hanna Ketai, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Los Angeles. To her, psychic disciplines are valuable because they “help us reflect and expand our awareness and think about things in a different way.”

At their most potent, psychic tools are a prism through which we can see ourselves and the world around us in clearer focus. They offer a scapegoat for and a solution to our problems: I’m impatient with my motions because my moon is in hyperactive Gemini; letting myself talk through them will help me focus on my feelings long enough to make peace with them. Mercury retrograde is a convenient catch-all for malfunctioning tech and relationships alike; it also encourages us to dedicate time and attention to past wounds which we may otherwise prefer to avoid. Like a parent sneaking zucchini into their finicky child’s oatmeal, psychic disciplines trick us into reckoning with ourselves by promising us we won’t have to.

Trying to make sense of our inner selves is confusing and messy; it asks us to reckon head-on with the uncontrollable vagaries of our psyches—the emotional equivalent of looking into the sun. Metaphysical practices trick us into believing that our emotional intricacies can be pinned and labeled like butterflies. With psychic practices, you can “immediately dive in and start playing with things and moving them around and getting them to talk to each other, and it’s really playful,” says Brooklyn, New York-based psychic practitioner Grace Kredell. “Just to even begin to diagnose what your kind of issues are, it’s a great way to work with yourself.”

More than any generation before us, ours has grown up with an acute understanding that being in touch with our inner selves (or whatever) is crucial to our overall well-being. Stigmas against seeking therapy are rapidly eroding, and self-care has grown from a self-indulgent pastime to a rising cultural tide. And it’s easy to understand why. Between the unique stressors faced by the “me generation” and the psychologically trying circumstances of our times, god knows we are desperate for succor. But for many people, therapy—the most obvious recourse—demands too much money, or too much time, or too much bravery. “I’ve been to see therapists, and I’ve had so many sessions, and it’s just like, we’re not even there yet to what it is that I really wanna talk about,” says Kredell. With astrology, on the other hand, “I can just talk about one placement with somebody, and it’s like, bang, we’re there, we’re talking about it.”

Ketai insists that metaphysical tools shouldn’t function as a shortcut. “I definitely don’t see tarot, astrology, or crystals as a substitution, and I wouldn’t recommend them as a substitution to therapy,” she says. “I know that there are barriers to access to care, but there are a lot of ways to get mental health care either for free or sliding-scale or through insurance.” But, to be frank, when I turn to my horoscopes and my tarot deck, I am looking for something that my therapist cannot provide. When I place myself in the hands of metaphysics, I am grounding myself in the earth; I am stitching myself into the sky.

There is little place for us in the scientific rules that govern the phenomena of chance and nature. The rules of astrology, of energy vibrations, of tarot—these allow us to subject our emotions and the vagaries of chance to the same stipulations that steer the wind and sea. But that final step into self-knowledge is ours to take. The night sky, the Death card, the collection of crystals on the windowsill, these are static objects, disorderly and unknowable. Whether or not we allow them to influence our actions—that’s up to us.

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.