Some Things I Did On The Internet I Don’t Want Anyone To Know About: On Neopets and the Ashley Madison Leak

Some Things I Did On The Internet I Don’t Want Anyone To Know About: On Neopets and the Ashley Madison Leak

In the wake of the Ashley Madison breach, there’s been a lot of talk about the notion of “justified” leaks. In recent memory, “The Fappening” iCloud photo leak in 2014 resulted in a number of celebrities’ private photos making their way on the Web. The Internet was largely outraged and supportive of Jennifer Lawrence—arguably one of the more famous victims—and echoed her sentiments that the photo leak was tantamount to a sex crime, but this time around we’re a lot less concerned about protecting the privacy of some 37 million people whose Ashley Madison account information was leaked by vigilante hackers who took it upon themselves to Hester Prynne all those alleged adulterers.

Now I’m no Josh Duggar fan, and I’m not too keen on Sam Rader, the YouTube dad who siphoned his wife’s urine for a pregnancy test, either, but I do believe that every person deserves the modicum privacy they’re supposed to be entitled to online, regardless of where their behavior may fall on my personal moral compass. I generally embrace the notion that if you don’t want something to go viral, you shouldn’t do/type/sign up for it, but do we really want to live our Internet lives as though hackers might always be watching?

If that were the case, we’d never make another online purchase we were too embarrassed to make at a brick and mortar store. We’d never find the answer to another health question we were too nervous to ask our doctor. We’d never discover new communities. There’s a lot of shady and downright awful stuff available on the Web (e.g. ignorant diatribes on Facebook and zit popping videos), but Internet privacy is something we should all be entitled to (unless you’re up to something illegal, of course), whether we’re ordering a blow-up doll or signing up for a recipe newsletter.

Continue reading “Some Things I Did On The Internet I Don’t Want Anyone To Know About: On Neopets and the Ashley Madison Leak”

How A Quarter-Life Crisis Feels A Lot Like Whack-A-Mole

How A Quarter-Life Crisis Feels A Lot Like Whack-A-Mole

Prior to humblebragging my recent vacation, I’ve been away from this blog for a while. I wish I had a simpler explanation for my absence, like a wealthy but morally unscrupulous man flew me to Dubai for a month or I had the kind of writer’s block that can only be remedied by closing the ol’ laptop and becoming reacquainted with the world that exists outside my imagination, but neither of those justifications are true – especially the first one, and not just because I don’t have a valid passport. I’ve been avoiding blank pages. When you’re a writer, an empty page beckons the same often unflattering reflection we sometimes try to avoid seeing in the mirror. I’ve been afraid of what might come crawling out in my prose when I Swiffered the cobwebs from my mind.

There’s so much I’ve wanted to say, but I couldn’t figure out why it felt so important that I say it, let alone how, when, or if I even should. That eager reluctance has felt like the kind of secret whisper you only hear when you hold a conch shell to your ear: it’s only as real as you want it to be. Since about February I’ve felt numbed by a cocktail of ambition, restlessness, confusion, fear, and acquiescence. It isn’t the result of any specific event but rather the symptoms of what has become my own personal Blue Period; only I’m not sure how the Old Guitarist at the end of the tunnel is going to manifest itself yet. As profoundly lonely as it feels sometimes, I know many of my friends are experiencing the same thing to varying degrees, and being privy to our distressed group messages is what ultimately convinced me that — for better or worse — I needed to face the blank page again.

Continue reading “How A Quarter-Life Crisis Feels A Lot Like Whack-A-Mole”

Photos From The Cabin Trip (Minus 30+ Selfies)

Photos From The Cabin Trip (Minus 30+ Selfies)

I have no problem admitting I’m that annoying person who forces people to say cheese for four group pictures, analyzing the believability of every person’s smile until everything about the picture is just right. Maybe it’s a side-effect of growing up with social media and the untold pressure of posting compelling pictures of me and my friends hanging out at the mall when I was in high school, but I just feel safer with hundreds of image files saved on my computer. The “You’re Not Living In The Moment!” argument against picture-taking has always bothered me, because I see nothing wrong with saving a tangible little piece of your life to daydream about later–kind of like in middle school when some QT (which is preteen for “cutie”) would borrow your pen and you’d preserve it in your desk like it was an artifact. Photos are the currency of our memories, and should Earth ever be taken over by a race of unusually sentimental lifeforms who determine socioeconomic status by one’s photo library, I’ll be set. 

I also fancy myself a bit of an aMaTeUr PhOtOgRaPhEr, but I don’t tell people that because it’s like insisting Lolita is your favorite book or claiming to enjoy classical music: It could be true, but it could also be one of those lies we use as quirky personality filler. I like to think my interest in photography has some legitimacy because it stems from a genuine desire to create art that’s long been hindered in every art class I’ve ever taken by my complete inability to hand draw anything recognizable. But not everyone is complaisant about how shutter-happy I can be, and as evidence, please see Mike’s crabby face — most commonly seen before his second cup of coffee and whenever people are getting too close to him at the grocery store — come to life after I asked him to take a picture with me in an open field:

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For the most part, he was a patient and willing participant; besides I’m not too proud to use self-timer. The cabin where we stayed and Northern Wisconsin in general were just too beautiful to put the camera down for too long — it’s been a long time since I’ve felt surrounded by nature that felt so unapologetically alive — so I hope you enjoy scrolling through these* as much as I enjoyed taking them.

*These photos do not include the embarrassing amount of selfies I relished taking in seclusion on the lake.

Continue reading “Photos From The Cabin Trip (Minus 30+ Selfies)”

Lane Bryant’s #ImNoAngel Campaign Still Misses The Mark

Lane Bryant’s #ImNoAngel Campaign Still Misses The Mark

On Monday, Lane Bryant revealed a new body positive campaign featuring models Ashley Graham, Candice Huffine, and more using the hashtag #ImNoAngel. The advertisements are being used to promote Lane Bryant’s Cacique bra collection. The campaign challenges beauty standards, perhaps most notably by denouncing the term “Angel,” which has become synonymous with Victoria’s Secrets famously slim print and runway models. As a woman who spent most of her life being fat and who still bears the stretchmarks, loose skin, and cellulite that have inspired their share of body shame since losing weight, I strive to be as body positive as possible. Even though I waver in my own efforts to embrace my body unconditionally, I think every woman deserves to feel confident and sexy in her own body. Despite supporting beauty in its many shapes and sizes, sometimes these body positive initiatives miss the mark for me, and Lane Bryant’s #ImNoAngel campaign is the newest addition to that list.

Maybe I’m on the Internet too much (not maybe; I am), but has anyone else noticed that there are certain causes that women are invariably criticized for questioning? I imagine that the nature of what those exact issues are varies based on your geographic area, your political leanings, your religion, or your social circles, but the two big things I wring my hands over having divergent opinions about are feminism and body positivity. Perhaps it’s because I work out a lot of my views on these matters through both reading and writing things online, but asking questions or criticizing anything deemed “feminist” or “body positive” usually results with the dissenter feeling like Tyrion Lannister on trial. That might be an exaggeration, but I know I’m not alone in feeling like David facing the Goliath of Things Modern Women Should Support Universally.

I’m sure some of you ladies out there would agree that when you ask questions about even a small aspect of something that’s overwhelmingly positive and empowering to women, the response can get nasty pretty quickly. So if you take issue with anything you read here today, all I ask is that you keep in mind that we’re on the same page. My criticism of this one body positive campaign does not make me anti-body positive. It also doesn’t make me a fat shamer or any other kind of icky thing that a woman becomes when she tries to make sense of our culture using her own lens.

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So, this Lane Bryant #ImNoAngel campaign. I think it’s problematic for a lot of reasons. First of all, I don’t like how Lane Bryant is taking a subtle dig at Victoria’s Secret, partially to get more publicity. “Look! These beautiful women have different body types and are therefore unwelcome in Victoria’s Secret cheesy, exclusionist runway show. They’re no Angels! Get it? Media outlets, will you pick this you up now? We mentioned Victoria’s Secret! See! That’s Bryant with a ‘t’.” Yes, brava, Lane Bryant. For this progressive campaign, you’ve successfully put together a group of models who would be beautiful at any size, but because most of them have a little more meat on their bones, they likely would not be scouted to be the face of Victoria’s Secret new bra that adds 15 cup sizes and costs $60.

I’m disappointed that Lane Bryant – a major name in the plus size industry – would try to piggyback their campaign on Victoria’s Secret’s notoriety. I mean, would we even be talking about this advertisement if it didn’t take a little jab with the #ImNoAngel angle? That feels disingenuous to me. If Lane Bryant truly wanted to denounce VS, why use their language? Why define women of every size by the “angel” terminology that excludes them? By proclaiming, “I’m no Angel,” women are still holding themselves to the Victoria’s Secret standard as if it’s a legitimate unit of measurement. You’re not an Angel? Cool, me either. Luckily for both us, “Angelhood” isn’t a real thing to which we should aspire. #ImNoAngel has this subtle way of shifting the blame from Victoria’s Secret’s company culture to its models, who are blameless in this. The Angels are thin, and perhaps they are presented as the “ideal” by the company, but that isn’t Adriana Lima or Candice Swanepoel’s fault. They don’t make the casting decisions. All the Angels are guilty of is wanting to work for a high-profile brand.

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Maybe the #ImNoAngel bit is an attempt to reclaim the term for all sizes, not just those who fit Victoria’s Secret standards. Well, reclaiming “Angel,” feels a lot different than taking back the term “fat” or “plus size.” I don’t think we should care about whether or not someone fits the mold of a Victoria’s Secret Angel, because “Angel” isn’t a term that’s routinely alienating women on a daily basis. Even if Lane Bryant is supporting the world’s many non-Angels, in doing so they’re maintaining the same troubling standard, just repurposing it so that it works in their favor. I don’t think we should ever celebrate people for not being things. I mean, not to get too crazy here, but the fact that #ImNoRobertDurst doesn’t exactly shed light on who I am as a person. The same applies to #ImNoAngel. Okay, so we’ve got women with different proportions who aren’t Victoria’s Secret Angels. Is that really how we want to celebrate every woman who doesn’t fit the VS mold? Why can’t we add more to this conversation instead of simply negating the the construct that already exists? I think #ImNoAngel really stinks in that regard, but #ImNoLaneBryantMarketingStrategist.

Moving beyond the #ImNoAngel stuff, can I let you guys in on a little secret that might be polarizing? I’ve never blamed Victoria’s Secret for not equally representing women with proportions like mine, past or present. Maybe it is unfair that VS doesn’t showcase every height, weight, boob size, hip width, or BMI, but I understand that like any other company, Victoria’s Secret has its own brand identity, and even though it might be limiting or unfair, it’s pretty much been the same for as long as I can remember. VS typically casts tall, thin models whose breasts haven’t been enhanced. That excludes a lot of women — fat and otherwise — but that’s Victoria’s Secret’s prerogative.

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I intimately understand how frustrating and hopeless it feels being an overweight woman who’s underrepresented and slighted at just about every turn — and that’s never more apparent than when it comes to fashion and lingerie – but should does that make it fair to hold these companies like Victoria’s Secret accountable for the deeply-engrained flaws of our culture? I don’t think so. Maybe through the years I’ve gotten good at separating my capitalistic sensibilities from my life experiences as a fat woman, but I’m not (and have never been) angry that certain companies choose not to offer larger sizes or feature models with waistlines more representative of the general population. Obviously it would be ideal if every clothing store used models with every shape and sold clothes of every size, but I’m a realist, and I know that logistically that’s probably never going to happen.

I love that thicker models are starting to get more of the campaigns they deserve, appearing in magazines like Sports Illustrated. I wish that there were more stylish clothing options for sizes 12 and beyond. But that doesn’t mean I see any sense in going to the mall, playing a game of eeney meeney miney moe with all the retailers who have decided not to diversify their models or sizes. That’s a losing game, and that’s not how I think we should approach body positivity. My body positivity is the kind that doesn’t require affirmation from Victoria’s Secret, Lululemon, or Abercrombie & Fitch. I don’t want retailers to make changes because their practices were criticized enough that they were obligated to do so as a public relations move; I want Victoria’s Secret and others to change because they want to, because it makes sense to them to do so, and because they believe it’s right. Nevertheless, that opinion puts me in the minority.

The #ImNoAngel campaign has become the Internet’s darling, spawning several other articles besides this one. Unfortunately, a lot of them are using phrases like, “Lane Bryant’s new ad campaign is redefining sexy!” Ugh. This always happens when body positivity gains a little momentum; people react as though being body positive is some progressive, newfangled idea that sounds pretty neato. Believe it or not, the concept that fatter bodies can be – gulp – worthy of ogling isn’t new. See the medieval art of Peter Paul Rubens:

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From here, the conversation usually devolves into a debate about whether using thicker women in ads glorifies obesity (lol), but let’s not go down that ridiculous rabbit hole today. The point I’m taking my sweet time in making is that many of the articles, blog posts, and tweets that support Lane Bryant prove just how much further body positivity still has to go. The notion that an average size or fat woman — who jiggles and eats complex carbs and doesn’t do Crossfit — can be sexy isn’t new, and we need to stop acting like it’s some grand, forward-thinking overture every time a company does something mainstream enough for us to comfortably talk about supporting body positivity. Sexy does not have a defined set of qualifiers, especially when it comes to size. Not to steal the Internet or Lane Bryant’s thunder, but this #ImNoAngel campaign is not the first time double-digit-sized women have been sexy. It’s great that Lane Bryant is elevating different body types to coveted the sex appeal pedestal, but this isn’t groundbreaking stuff; if we’re serious about being open-minded about size acceptance, we need to stop being so surprised by it.

Ultimately, Lane Bryant’s new campaign isn’t bad. How could it be? Lane Bryant is giving women with different, less-glorified proportions a powerful platform to be seen and hopefully inspire change. Any time someone is talking about positivity, it’s a good thing. But I won’t sit here and pretend that #ImNoAngel is perfect or that it’s wholly representative of what I envision body positivity to be. It’s not. #ImNoAngel relies on press from swiping at Victoria’s Secret, the alleged oppressor in this situation, and it measures women using the same standards that got us to this place in the first place. More importantly, the response to #ImNoAngel shows that even though we’re taking steps in the right direction, we still have a long way to go.

Images: plusmaleblog/tumblr; Candice Huffine, Lane Bryant/Instagram; Giphy

3 Awful Social Media Habits We Need To Stop in 2015

3 Awful Social Media Habits We Need To Stop in 2015

Social mediaFull disclosure: I’m one of those cynical New Year’s Resolutions haters. I’m the person who scrolls down her Facebook newsfeed and makes bets about who’s actually going to back to school or commit to veganism for more than a month in 2015. It’s not nice, and I shouldn’t shade all over someone’s new calendar shine, but I can’t help it. To me, New Year’s resolutions have always seemed like a really laissez-faire way to set goals and start making changes in your life. But, in an effort to be a more open-minded hater (and because in my heart of hearts I truly believe that if the start of a brand new year is what it takes to get someone motivated to do great things, I should live and let procrastinate), I’ve been thinking about all the things I want to improve about myself in 2015. Embarrassingly, the social media aspect of my life is in need of a major overhaul. Maybe it’s because it’s an odd-numbered year (even-numbered years make me feel uncomfortable) or perhaps my goals are clearer than they’ve ever been in New Year’s past, but I’m feeling optimistic about doing awesome things this year. Assuming, of course, that I can stop doing these three bad social media habits first.

1. Social media idolatry

The other day I was at my boyfriend’s best friend’s house, and he had one of those books on his coffee table that tells you what your birthday says about you. “Read yours,” Mike urged, “It’s really accurate.” In my experience, these things are either vague enough to be true about anyone, way off, or eerily precise. This book fell in the eerily precise category. As I was reading along, one entire paragraph was dedicated to idolatry. Before giving it any thought, I immediately became internally defensive thinking, “Hang on, now, I don’t worship any false gods!” and then held that thought for a second while I went on Twitter to read the latest tweets from this semi-famous Internet person whose life must be better than mine because she writes for a living, resides in NYC, and has 15.2K Twitter followers.

Sure, most of her tweets are clever and ~cool~, but I’m not reading them for enjoyment. I’m reading them to see 150 characters worth of reasons why I should give up on all my pathetic social media efforts and stop writing. I look at her page to be jealous and give legitimacy to all my Internet self-doubts. It’s creepy, and it needs to stop.

Think about the people you’re peeping on Instagram. I’m sure I’m not the only one engaging in the destructive type of social media idolatry.

(By the way, if you want to see if your birthday analysis is accurate, you can find it online here.)

2. Getting emotionally invested in garbage

We’re overexposed to opinions, and every time someone gets hacked or Kim Kardashian sneezes, we feel this intense pressure to figure out where we stand and why. We let every ludicrous, shocking, or heartbreaking thing worm its under our skin, and why? Because we’re obligated to react to every single headline we read on BuzzFeed?

We live in a crazy world that needs our help, and I’m not advocating apathy, but maybe it’s okay to pick and choose what you care about sometimes. You don’t have to feel feelings about the all the things. Something I started doing in 2014 (and want to continue doing in 2015) is distancing myself from other people’s opinions when necessary, because sometimes they make me irrationally angry. Or sad. Or confused. Sometimes it can be inspiring, but sometimes it can be a burden. It can make you heavy. With an endless stream of content coming at us from all directions (but most often, from the palm of our hand) each day, we need to filter.

Repeat after me: I am not obligated to read and/or react to everything I come across on Tumblr.

3. Wasting time doing background checks on people I haven’t talked to in 5+ years

Sometimes I do this really weird thing where I get sucked into discovering every detail about a former acquaintance/peer/colleague’s life for about 15 minutes to an hour. It usually starts with one of their Facebook posts about some minor accomplishment. Then I’m on trolling on his or her page for people that I recognize, and I see that he or she is still friends with so-and-so from high school. PLUS they’re dating someone who works at such-and-such company, and hang on a second. THEY HAVE A KID? When did that happen? His name is Kane. He’s three. Oh look, there he is in the pool. What do we have here? Is that a backhanded comment about child support? Uh oh.

I have no personal stake in any of this information, and it doesn’t enrich my life in any way other than giving me something to talk about with people who also used to know that person around the same timeframe that I knew him or her. Yeah, it’s oddly entertaining and makes me feel omnipotent for a while, but it’s also distracting and time-consuming, and my time would probably be better spent watching TV or doing something productive with my life.

What bad social media habits are you dropping for 2015?

You’re Not a Victoria’s Secret Model (And That’s Okay)

You’re Not a Victoria’s Secret Model (And That’s Okay)

“I was going to watch the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show tomorrow, but I just remembered that I like having self-esteem,” posted one of my Facebook friends on the eve of the annual Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show. It earned 32 likes, and one commenter posted an image of cartoon owl guiltily eating cookies and subsequently vomiting a rainbow. Someone else added, “Soo you should come over n watch it while eating pizza.” I’ll admit that after scrolling past another engagement announcement and a festive Christmas tree picture, it made me smile because it was relatable. We’ve all seen the memes: a screen cap of <em>Here Comes Honey Boo Boo</em>’s Alana Thompson pinching her stomach with the caption, “How I feel after watching the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show.”

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Of course, the Facebook post was just a joke–a lighthearted comment that acknowledges the “angels” walking that famed runway are tall, sexy, and in great shape, whereas many of us at home are eating Chipotle. Even though I like my body most of the time and would consider myself satisfied with my eating and exercise habits, I’d still have major reservations about walking down a runway in lingerie while Taylor Swift serenades millions of viewers and me. The Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show serves a variety of purposes; some argue it titillates men while objectifying women. It shows off Victoria’s Secret’s products in just enough time for clueless husbands and boyfriends to head out to the mall to buy some holiday lingerie and duck out into the parking lot clutching one of those pink, striped bags. For the wealthy, it’s a chance to see a million dollar bra bedazzled with diamonds and other gems. But what is the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show to women? Is it a source of aspiration, a celebration, or a catalyst for our body shame? Maybe it’s a bit of each, but we seem to be focusing on the body shame aspect, at least on our social media.

3e9b838b50c70d655d9a97dde792fe92The weird thing about the Victoria’s Secret fashion show is its magnetic allure. I have no idea why I feel so compelled to watch it. That’s not a denigration of the models, premise, or musical guests, but if I really try to figure out what benefit there is to watching that show, I’m at a loss. Victoria’s Secret already has my business, so why exactly am I tuning in? It’s because I want to <em>see</em>. I want to indulge in voyeuristic comparison. I want to see what all the models are wearing; I want to see how they look in stockings that would make my thighs look like sausages and garter belts that would give me a muffin top. I want to see it all because watching that special is a covert way of letting my body shame win. The best part is, when it’s all over, I can be part of a community when I tweet about how my self-esteem has plummeted thanks to Karlie Kloss.

Why do we insist on doing this ourselves?

It’s heartbreaking that we bond most over our shared moments of low self-esteem, and it’s practically a rite of passage to post something body negative on social media. There’s a distinct difference between aspiring to a goal and letting someone else’s body make you feel worse about your own. No matter who you are or what you look like–and for most of us, it’s nothing like a Victoria’s Secret model–you should take ownership of how you feel about your own body. I’d like to think the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show could and should do more than inspire gloomy memes about how fat we all feel after it’s over. The models who are walking that runway work hard to get up there, and we sometimes (myself included) have a tendency to treat lanky women with good genes like inherent enemies whose mere existence conflicts with our own, but these women aren’t any less aware of their bodies than we are. That’s what we should be focusing on: Even though the VS models have legs for days, they still work just as hard to maintain their bodies, their health, and their confidence as the rest of us.

Maybe it’s because I spent most of my life being fat, but I’m still looking for any excuse to feel alienated because my body isn’t “perfect.” So this year when the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show ends, I’m going to make an effort to turn off the television comfortable with the understanding that just because I don’t look like those women on the screen, I don’t have to be ashamed of my body because of it. If you’re tuning in, I invite you to do the same. You’re not a Victoria’s Secret model, and that’s okay, because you’re still gorgeous (even if you forget sometimes).

The Fault in Our Feminism

The Fault in Our Feminism

In case you’ve just come out from under your rock, earlier this month George Clooney married the lovely Amal Alamuddin in Italy.

You might remember George Clooney from the television series ER, his numerous movie roles, and his reputation for being a bachelor, but let’s focus on Amal Alamuddin. She’s a lawyer who specializes in international law, criminal law, human rights, and extradition. One of her clients is Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks. She speaks Arabic, English, and French. Essentially, she’s a boss if ever there was one, and she’d probably have her own freakin’ holiday if she hadn’t ruined everyone’s deepest George Clooney fantasies when she said “I Do.”

But since these two have begun their wedded bliss, Amal’s darkest secret has been revealed: she’s a bad feminist. I’m sure you’re wondering how such a successful, worldly woman could be a bad feminist. Well, I’ll enlighten you: she changed her last name to Clooney.

Isn’t that a shame? Right when we thought we might have a new shining example of an empowered, educated woman, she throws it all away with Carrie Bradshawian frivolity. She may as well have tattooed “Property of Clooney” on her forehead. You do know that’s what means, don’t you? She’s George’s property now. All the accomplishments of Amal Alamuddin are nil; they’ve been erased because she’s Amal Clooney now. She’s practically got one shoe off and is well on her way to being barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen.

Look. I (along with Amal Clooney and countless other women) am totally aware that the tradition of a woman taking her husband’s last name has some pretty disgusting origins. What’s more, I’m sure there are people out there, both men and women, who still vehemently believe that once a woman gets married she “belongs” to her husband and should take his name accordingly because “that’s the tradition, and it’s just what’s done.” That perspective certainly has the potential to be troubling, but since it is 2014 and many educated, successful, independent women still choose to take their spouse’s last name, does the citing the origins of why women take their husband’s names accomplish anything more than making all women who changed their name feel like blithering idiots? We don’t have to pretend for one second that the concept of ownership isn’t how this name-taking tradition got started, but when a woman takes her husband’s last name instead of keeping her own or hyphenating, could we stop pulling the “You made yourself into property!” card as if we know everything about her relationship? I mean, why is that okay? It sounds like the unsolicited, assholish remark that would get you blacklisted at a party: “Hey uh, I don’t know if you know this, but you willingly became a possession when you changed your name. Just thought you should know that.” Please don’t tell me it’s informative or educational—it’s really just rude. It’s bullying. It’s making someone feel guilty about a decision they made just so you can feel powerful and Right for a few minutes.

I can find no legitimate reason for anyone to be upset that Amal Alamuddin decided to become Amal Clooney, and I’m enraged that anyone would think it’s acceptable to leverage her career as proof she had all the makings of being a good feminist… until she made the unforgivable faux pas of changing her name. Forgive me, but I don’t think women should make every life decision while being a “good feminist” is top of mind. That’s not how feminism works. I can only speak for myself, but I have no interest in looking to a WWFD? bracelet during the turbulent moments of life when my reputation as a feminist might be at stake. Maybe I don’t get it, and if I don’t, maybe I don’t want to, but my feminism is the kind that says as a woman, when you make decisions about your life for yourself, you’re feministing correctly.

I don’t know why Amal changed her last name, and that’s none of anyone’s business but hers, but I’m going to give her the benefit of the doubt and say that unless George pressured her into using an arm wrestling contest to decide whether she takes his last name, Amal’s decision to become Amal Clooney was probably one she arrived at all by herself. Maybe she went back and forth about it. Maybe she didn’t like the fact “mud” was in her last name for all those years. Maybe she wants consistency on their Christmas cards. Maybe she wants to have the same last name as her future children. Maybe she always planned on taking her husband’s name when she got married. Maybe they agreed to flip a coin, she called tails, and she lost. It doesn’t matter how trivial or profound the process of reaching this decision was—what’s important is that as long as it’s one Amal is comfortable with, it’s all gravy.

As someone who writes on the Internet, I totally understand that a name can become important; it becomes part of your personal brand. If you’re a recognized expert in your chosen field, a published author, a well-known celebrity, etc. changing your name could put you at risk of losing some of that esteem or exposure. But does that mean your name is your identity? That’s a scary thought. If my identity is Katherine Hoffman, my identity is pretty damn common. Obviously, our names shape our world in so many ways (they often inspire our Twitter handles!), but I truly don’t believe someone’s name is crucial to them being who they are. I like to think that even if I was Harriet Dinglehopper or Niamh Edamame, I’d still be me; I just happen to call being me “Katie” to alleviate confusion. Does that make sense? I’d have the same values, the same accomplishments under my belt, and the same outlook, I’d just have a different name. If there’s ever been a time to use this cliché: “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

So she isn’t known as Amal Alamuddin anymore (though actually Alamuddin is still part of her name, Clooney just follows it), does that mean she stopped being a successful lawyer? No, no it does not. It means she’s a successful lawyer who’s decided to go by Amal Clooney now.

You know what else I’ve noticed about all the buzz about Amal’s name change? People seem to feel the most betrayed because she’s a lawyer. She’s empowered. How could such an intelligent woman change her last name like some jobless stay at home mom? She should know better! Like, this entire conversation is low-key dismissive of women who might not be as accomplished as Amal. I guess these particular feminists expect women in entry-level jobs who didn’t go to college to take their husbands’ names, but not those Amal types who are supposed to be leading the way! Whether it’s intentional or not, that’s the comment that’s being made, and it’s pretty gross. Why, in the context of some feminist outlooks, does changing your last name imply that you’re dumb or willing to be in your husband’s shadow?

We shouldn’t let anyone make a woman feel like she’s an inferior or uncommitted wife because she doesn’t take her husband’s last name. By the same token, we shouldn’t let anyone make a woman feel uneducated or naïve when she does decide to change her name.

You don’t have to keep your maiden name to be a “good feminist.” This isn’t a race. If you want to keep your last name because it’s yours, you like it, or your spouse’s last name is something weird like Shitt, do you! Keep it! If you decide you want to take your spouse’s name? Go for it! You don’t need to justify either of those preferences any more than you need to justify why you deserve equal pay.

You know what seems patently unfeminist (unkind, and just generally narrow-minded) to me? Looking at another woman’s decisions from your own perspective and dismissing them. If anything, that poses a bigger threat to feminism than Amal Alamuddin becoming Amal Clooney. This breed of fingerpointing feminism is what alienates people. It’s the kind that gets trivialized by men and women alike. Blaming and shaming is not what feminism about—it’s about understanding that you may not agree with the decisions of other women, but you respect their ability to make their own choices.