positivity

“Star Trek: Discovery”: How Michael Burnham speaks to my perfectionist, highly sensitive struggles

As I’ve stated in my SlashFilm review, I’ve always been a Star Trek fan ever since I watched Star Trek: The Next Generation with my dad about 20 years ago. But while Jean-Luc Picard will always be my favorite Star Trek captain ever (who can say no to Patrick Stewart and the way he commanded with calm authority?), Picard has to battle Spock for the title of favorite Star Trek character ever.

The reason? Because as a half human, half Vulcan, Spock has had to battle his reason with his human emotions, emotions that had the potential to get (and, in the reboot films, has gotten) the best of him. The battle between raging emotions and cold reason is a battle I face constantly. Never did I think Star Trek would continue to crystallize this struggle in such a poignant way, but the franchise succeeded again with Star Trek: Discovery‘s Michael Burnham and her relationship to her father figure (and Spock’s future father) Sarek.

I’ve stated many times on this site and in other publications about how much of my love for Star Trek stems from its ability to showcase varying struggles that exist under the umbrella of “diversity.” Thankfully, the franchise also includes psychological diversity as well, as is the case with the Vulcan race. The Vulcans have stood for many things to many viewers. Some see the Vulcans and their occasional misunderstandings as a way to thoughtfully approach the autism spectrum. Others see the Vulcans as simply uppity living cardboard figures. Speaking personally, the Vulcans have always shown a light on two of my big personal struggles–perfectionism and the highly sensitive (or even empathic) mind.

Sonequa Martin-Green as Michael Burnham. Photo credit: CBS

The running joke my sister and I have is that I’m a Vulcan. In fact, when I said it as self-deprication a few years ago, my sister replied thoughtfully, “You know what? I agree with that.”

I’ve always been a deep thinker, and too many times, that thinking has either gotten me in some type of mental trouble or made me appear as unable to connect with the “normal” outside world. Sometimes, I feel like I can’t connect with the outside world, because I’m so wrapped up in how other people feel, how I feel, and how to best convey those feelings to people who might not have emotions that run as deeply as mine do. As psychiatrist and Emotional Freedom author Judith Orloff accurately described, “It’s like feeling something with 50 fingers as opposed to 10. You have more receptors to feel things.”

Believe it or not, it’s not easy being a feeler, and our Western society makes sure it’s tougher than it has to be. As a society,we value loudness over softness, action over reflection, and doing over being. The stereotypes of a highly sensitive person make us out to be gooey bundles of mush that can’t defend ourselves because we’re supposedly so much weaker than the “average” person. That’s not the case–we aren’t weak. We’re actually quite strong. But you wouldn’t know it from how much emphasis people put on having an extroverted outlook and put down those of us who are reserved within ourselves.

All this leads to is, aside from a smattering of depression, a bad case of perfectionism. I call myself a “recovering perfectionist” now, but for a long time, I’ve been investigating where my perfectionism came from. I’d have to say that there are a lot of reasons for it, but one of them is because I’ve used perfectionism as a bad coping mechanism for the harsh world who can’t handle tears. I grew up comparing myself to others who I thought were better than me simply because they could they naturally handled emotions in a different way than I did. I didn’t realize that the way I handled my emotions was simply my nature–it’s as much an integral part of me as my black skin is. After growing into adulthood I’ve realized that there’s no reason to try to change myself, since my emotions work just like how they’re supposed to work. They are part of the inner strength that help make me a better version of myself each day.

Arista Arhin in Star Trek: Discovery (Photo credit: CBS)

Michael Burnham seems tailor made for this type of exploration of inner strength. I see in her what I’ve seen in me all the time. I see her struggle to adapt to her Vulcan upbringing and tamp down her human (i.e. emotional) self. I see her struggle to fit in with her Vulcan peers, possibly feeling a lack of self-esteem at not being like the others. I see the shadow of perfectionism that showed itself as cockiness when she first enters the U.S.S. Shenzhou–you can tell she thinks she knows everything about everything because she’s been the first human to graduate from the Vulcan academies and excel amid intense pressure and a stacked deck. I also see her struggle to understand that her humanness–her emotions–is what makes her great.

Her struggle against emotions is also apparent in Sarek and other Vulcans. Big fans of Star Trek know that Vulcans do, in fact, feel. As Memory-Alpha states:

“Contrary to stereotype, Vulcans did possess emotions; indeed, Vulcan emotions were far more intense, violent, and passionate than those of many other species, including even Humans. It was this passionate, explosive emotionality that Vulcans blamed for the vicious cycle of wars which nearly devastated their planet. As such, they focused their mental energies on mastering them.”

Vulcans, including human-born/Vulcan-raised members like Michael and Vulcan-human hybrids like Spock, always suffered with deep-running emotions. Here on planet Earth, there are tons of folks like me who always seem to be drowning in their own emotions, even as we attempt to tamp them down. The actual suffering doesn’t come from the emotions themselves, but from the attempt to control them. But if you unleash those emotions, then what? The fear of being out of control in any fashion is what, sadly, keeps the suffering going. It’s the Vulcans’ own fear of a lack of self-control that keeps them perpetuating what is essentially a culture of emotional abuse and intense perfectionism over and over. The aspiration to be the ultimate Vulcan, as it were, is what causes Vulcans to stay at war with themselves.

The Vulcan brain can also be a scary place to be due to their intense emotions. Again, to quote Memory-Alpha:

“The Vulcan brain was described as ‘a puzzle, wrapped inside an enigma, house inside a cranium.’ This had some basis in fact, as the Vulcan brain was composed of many layers…Unlike most humanoid species, traumatic memories were not only psychologically disturbing to Vulcans, but had physical consequences as well. The Vulcan brain, in reordering neural pathways, could literally lobotomize itself.”

The human brain can’t lobotomize itself (although it can block highly traumatic memories from ever reaching the surface), but his description of the Vulcan brain, especially the part about how much of a puzzle it is, fits the highly emotional mind as well. A mind that is constantly drenched in deep emotion is a mind that is mystery even to itself. The fact that there’s science spearheaded by the leading HSP expert, Dr. Elaine Aron, that show that the highly sensitive person has a hypersensitive wired nervous system and empathy-targeted brain is evidence that the highly sensitive mind is an overactive (and sometimes over-reactive) place. Also, like Vulcans, those who consider themselves highly sensitive or even empathic have extremely strong reactions to events as well as the mundane, due to the fact that–like Vulcans–we can usually sense the emotions of others.

James Frain and Sonequa Martin-Green as Sarek and Michael. (Photo credit: CBS)

However, with all of this going on, it’s fascinating that Sarek still saw the value in human emotions, so much so that he entrusted his ward to Capt. Georgiou in an attempt to give her the human experiences she never had. It’s also poignant to note that he only shows his true emotions to those closest to him, like when he does his best to hold back a proud smile as he introduces Michael to Georgiou for the first time. Or when he reveals to Michael through their mental connection his regret at not showing her the emotional support she needed throughout her life. His statements are made simply, but you can see the depth of feeling there. You can tell how much he loves Michael and does truly believe in her, like any good father would. Like any parent, he’s made mistakes in raising his child, and he’s emotionally intelligent enough to be able to admit that–and his emotional state surrounding this fact–to Michael. As we already know from Star Trek, Sarek sees a lot of admirable qualities in humans, so much so that he married one and had a child. Perhaps it was raising Michael that helped him open his eyes to the importance of having a balance between emotion and reason.

Showing Sarek reveal his emotional side to Michael, and Michael revealing her emotions to Georgiou, brings up another point about highly sensitive people, or at least, someone like me–it’s difficult showing your full self to the public. It’s much easier–and much more intimate–to show the full extent of your emotions to those closest to you, to those who understand you. Not everyone realizes that emotions aren’t there to be played with or used against the person; we highly sensitive people only feel safest revealing ourselves to those who mean the most to us in our lives. Those people have earned the right to know us as we are, and that is a coveted position to hold. In Star Trek terms, it is a coveted position to have a Vulcan as a friend, because they will probably be extremely loyal to you because of the position you hold in their life.

James Frain as Sarek. (Photo credit: CBS)

The scene between Sarek and Michael in the mind meld was extremely special for me. It hit home in a way I didn’t expect that scene to do. It made me feel like I finally have someone who understands my personal struggle on television, and she’s also a black woman. It showcases a different side to blackness that is rarely seen on television (so much so that tons of Star Trek fanbros are up in arms over Michael leading the series). She’s not loud or brash. She’s not sexually promiscuous. She’s not even funny, really. She’s a no-nonsense, yet naive woman who is still trying to find herself amid her place between two cultures. She’s ‘a puzzle, wrapped inside an enigma, house inside a cranium,’ and it’s good to see someone like her exist in our pop culture. She lets other black women like me, women with Vulcan brains, know that not only are they just fine, but they can–yes, I’m saying it–live long and prosper. 🖖🏾

#BeyondLabels: Fashion Blogger Freddie Harrel On Rediscovering Her Self-Worth

Like a lot of sites focusing on diversity in the media, JUST ADD COLOR highlights a lot of stories about being defined by labels, particularly bad ones. So much in or society is dominated by how others see us and how each of us are portrayed in the media. That can do a lot of damage to a person’s self-esteem and self-worth. But with all of the labeling that happens in a lifetime, how about living beyond those stereotype-laden labels that limit us? In other words, how do we find our self-worth, despite the messaging we’ve received? #BeyondtheLabels will highlight how people who are considered “outsiders” by the media—because of race, gender, weight/size, sexuality, ability, mental health, etc.—have rediscovered their self-worth and self-acceptance.

Fashion blogger Freddie Harrel combines her love for style with her passion for helping others gain self-confidence because of her own past struggles self acceptance. Her story reminds me of the stories many women of color, black women in particular, have when it comes to accepting their hair, being told by others they were pretty “for a black girl,” and consistently being put down by the mean-spirited and well-meaning alike. Her story is also familiar to me because, like me and many other women of color, she went to a school where she was the minority. Being put in a situation of being the only black person in an institution is stressful enough, but having to deal with both outward and unspoken discrimination is even more taxing on a teenager’s mental growth into adulthood.

Her moment of clarity came after years of trying to fit in. “Before I am a woman, before I am black, I am Freddie,” she said. “…In a really non-arrogant way, I think that’s amazing. I can’t believe I’ve missed that in so many years.”

Instead of me describing her story, just watch this video, created by Stylelikeu’s “What’s Underneath Project: London.”

You can follow Harrel at her site. You can also follow Stylelikeu and see more amazing stories of self-acceptance from people of all walks of life.

“Incredible Girl” Provides Space for Alternate Relationships

Ready to learn about more than just the two-person relationship dynamic? If you’ve raised your hands, consider me right there along with you, because in the spirit of being well-rounded, I’m highly fascinated to see the new pilot, Incredible Girl.

The webisode is created by Celia Aurora de Blas and Teresa Jusino (whose written work you can read at The Mary Sue, where Jusino’s the Assistant Editor). The pilot focuses on a young woman who realizes the life she’s lived up until this point isn’t really who she wants to be. Enter Incredible Girl, who changes the young woman’s life forever.

INCREDIBLE GIRL is the story of Sarah, a young woman from a Southern Baptist background who’s going through a divorce – and is slowly realizing that the life she used to value no longer makes sense for her. She meets a mysterious force-of-nature known as “Incredible Girl” who shows her that the possibilities for what her life can look like are endless, and encourages her to indulge her curiosity in the world of BDSM.
Family drama, romance and  humor irreverently come together in this female-led, rite-of-passage digital series that confounds expectations about who and how you should love.
Ultimately, we’ll learn that love and passion, control and submission, pain and pleasure are just as intrinsic to religion as they are to BDSM. The body is indeed an altar, while prayer is a form of orgasm (fact: orgasm and prayer activate the same parts of the brain!).
Our goal with this series is to depict the world of BDSM in a fun, entertaining, authentic way, and to promote understanding and tolerance of those whose sexuality marks them out as “different”.

The show is a 30-minute dramedy-of-sorts, which aims to join the likes of Hulu or Amazon; in fact, if you want to compare Incredible Girl to any of the web’s current slate of shows, use Netflix’s Orange is the New Black Hulu’s Casual, or Amazon’s Transparent as your yardsticks. I’d also say that the show could possibly be a great fit for the Audience Network, who has the threesome show, You, Me, Her.  Incredible Girl doesn’t just focus on sexual diversity, but also features racial and gender diversity as well. The show is helmed by women and is a “female-centric series that explores alternative lifestyles and tells the stories of characters that are diverse racially, in their gender identification, and in body type and physical ability.” To go further, let’s look at the stats, provided by Jusino:

As of now, the show has a Latina writer, 5 of our 6 producers are female, over 50% of our production team is People of Color, and we’ve hired a trans woman as our production sound mixer. Many of our characters are of color, on the LGBTQ+ spectrum, or of different body types/physical abilities (for example, one of our major supporting characters is Cupcake Dominatrix, who is a plus-sized Latina dominatrix. We also feature kinky people who are in wheelchairs, or have other disabilities, etc)

If you need something to take the awful taste of 50 Shades of Grey out of your mouth, Incredible Girl is exactly what you need. Take a look at the short film the pilot’s inspired by, as well as the pilot pitch and teaser scenes (some images are not safe for work):

Incredible Girl has a crowdfunding campaign to raise $50,000, with the campaign ending April 13. There’s still time for you to help out and make Incredible Girl‘s spot on Amazon or Hulu a reality. (Donations are also tax deductible.)

What do you think about Incredible Girl? Give your opinions below the post! Also, follow Incredible Girl on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram, and YouTube.

 

#DifferenceMakers: The Banned Lane Byrant #ThisBody Ad

Women have enough trouble as it is, but we also face intense scrutiny with beauty and size standards. Even though there’s many different sizes of women and many different standards of beauty, women and girls have to contend with what’s always presented to them as the norm—being tall and thin (but somehow still buxom and curvy). I’ve personally dealt with these issues in my own life, and they are something I’m only just now coming to terms with.

Showing different types of beauty on television and in film would help everyone feel more comfortable in their own skin, but several television stations went against that idea by banning a revolutionary Lane Bryant ad. The ad doesn’t show anything different than your typical Victoria’s Secret commercial—women in bras and panties—but this ad was, for some reason, seen as being too “indecent.” Take a look at the ad yourself:

Did you see anything too indecent for television (especially seeing how we get full-on sex scenes in primetime TV nowadays)? I didn’t. So it left many to wonder what exactly was so controversial about showing full-figured bodies on television, especially when commercials like this get aired, which are presented in an aggressively sexy tone (the only difference being that skinnier models are shown).

Either way, the Lane Bryant commercial was a positive step towards remedying many women’s low self-esteem. By seeing self-assured, self-confident, beautiful women who are also women of size, many will start to feel the seeds of empowerment.

What did you think about the commercial? Give your opinions in the comments section below!