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Life

Protest and Pandemic Life Lessons to Learn from 2020

A commencement speech, of sorts

By Megan Collins | Last Updated: Jun 19 2020

It would be great if we could come out of this 1-2 punch of a global pandemic and taken-to-the-streets protests for social justice with something to actually show for our time and trouble. An effective vaccine and ban on chokeholds, to begin with.

And if we’re putting in requests? I’ve got a few more.

I’m talking about emerging from 2020 having learned protest and pandemic life lessons about the people we want to be, and the society we want to create. And yes, I have been playing Vitamin C’s “Graduation Song” on repeat today, why do you ask?

So if you’ll allow me: I’d like to share a commencement speech of sorts, for the graduates of this crazy f*cking time. My hopes and dreams for the class of 2020.

Below, 8 protest and pandemic life lessons to learn from 2020:

1. Shop more conscientiously

“We need to collectively get past the mindset that $3 is an appropriate price for a t-shirt,” Style Girlfriend’s Gabi Meyers told me. 

She’s right. A piece of clothing’s low price generally means compromises have been made along the way that devalue the labor that went into making it. Compromises that we should no longer be comfortable with.

Shopping local, and shopping small can help curb our practice of always looking for the lowest price.

“As nice as is it to get a deal, it’s much nicer knowing that you are supporting your fellow man and not some anonymous billionaire who thinks of you as ‘human capital stock’. Besides, if it’s that cheap it’s going to get a hole in the first wash or give you some weird mystery rash—dealer’s choice!” 

I loved this tweet recently from Beardbrand founder Eric Bandholz. It might seem counterintuitive at first, but “Buy Less, Pay More” is a great way to approach shopping.

While we’re still a ways off from comfortably shopping independent retailers in-person (a good way to learn more about what went into making an item, and thereby understanding its perhaps higher-than-you’re-comfortable-with-cost), there’s always online shopping.

Right now, our team is focused on expanding the brands and retailers we share on Style Girlfriend to include more Black-owned businesses and local retailers with easy-to-shop e-commerce sites.

When it comes to protest and pandemic life lessons, this is a good one to learn that we just wish we would have figured out sooner.

2. Date with fewer games

I mean, ideally, I’d say date with no games, but I want to be reasonable. 

SG’s Taylor Davies points out that as stay-at-home orders lift, the excitement to get back “out there” for those looking for love is palpable.  

“I think at first we’ll all be eager to get our yah-yah’s out. How badly do you want to bump knees and sip a $16 cocktail at a bar with someone (anyone!) right now!? After spending so many months with nothing but our screens to keep us warm at night, some face-to-face flirting—even in a mask!—sounds pretty damn good to me.

But as the ice in those cocktails melts, so to speak, I’d like to believe we’ll go forward in our search for love with more purpose. What if we brought back asking our friends to set us up? Have you ever passed a note with your number on it in a coffee shop? Heck, bring back calling cards!”

So, go forth and act with integrity and intention!

If you like someone, ask them out. If you want to date exclusively, say so. If you want to end a relationship, say that, too, instead of slowly pulling away, so that she’s the “crazy” one when she gets confused and reacts negatively to your behavior.

Like SG Madness 2020 winner Harry Styles says, “Treat people with kindness.” What a concept!

3. Go to f*cking therapy

Please. Maybe you’ve spent the majority of this time by yourself at home, and sitting with your own thoughts this long has made you question everything from your place on this earth to your purpose while you’re on it? 

Or maybe you and your significant other haven’t spent this much together time since you first started dating and the vibe is…less than loving. Or maybe you and your partner are falling into bed exhausted every night, feeling physically and emotionally hollowed out by caring for kids for whom you ran out of at-home activities back in April.  

Maybe you’ve had to confront the realities of death as loved ones (or loved ones of those you know) have died from coronavirus, or your own relationship to systemic racism. 

Honestly, I hope you’ve confronted both of those or we really need to talk about your levels of introspection.

Whatever it is that’s been bubbling up in your brain, and percolating in your gut, go talk to a professional about it!

If you managed to make a home gym in the corner of your garage, or hell, the corner of your studio apartment, then you know how to prioritize your physical health. It’s high time to make some room in your life for your mental health, too.

4. Redefine your sex life

I say this with the confidence of someone raised Catholic: life is too long to go through it uncomfortable talking about sex.

While men are taught to be the aggressors when it comes to physical relationships, I think it’s probably true that all of us could benefit from becoming more at-home talking about intimacy.

Dominnique Karetsos, sexual wellness advisor for MysteryVibe, agrees. “As we come out of lockdown, I hope men can really start to embrace how to communicate their needs and desires, judgement-free, so they can be better lovers, partners, husbands, and friends. Whether you’ve been isolating solo or with a partner, we’ve all had a lot of time to think about what we really want: out of sex, our relationships, and ourselves.” 

I get funny looks from friends when I namecheck sex columnist Dan Savage’s Save Lovecast as one of my favorite podcasts, but the guy gives good slang!

So when it comes to sex, think GGG. It’s a term Savage coined that means “Good, giving, and game (within reason).” Which means? You’ve gotta talk about what you do and don’t want.

“Maybe being cooped up with your partner has motivated you to ask for alone time more directly,” says Karetsos. “Or perhaps some long-distance sexting gave you the opportunity to tune into desires you were once embarrassed to share. Whatever your lockdown experience, remember that open communication is always a good idea as we return to busy life. Continue to check-in and communicate!” 

5. Expand your entertainment horizons

A term I’ve learned recently is “centering.” 

Spoiler: It sounds like positive self-care but it’s not! 

As a white woman, when I center the fight for racial justice around my voice and experiences, I’m edging out the voices of Black people whose voices and experiences desperately need to be heard right now. 

While it’s embarrassingly uncomfortable to see how much I’ve made things about me, I’m learning to learn from others more. 

A good place to start on this for men and for women is entertainment. Men have been centered for so long as the hero (or sure, anti-hero) of books, TV shows, movies, and music that it can be easy to become the fish who doesn’t know what water is. It’s just always been like this.

I’ve talked about this before, about the importance of consuming content from the female gaze, which is literally what Style Girlfriend is about (though I wouldn’t have been able to crystalize it as such at the time). 

Consider checking out more female writers if your ‘recently read’ pile consists mainly of Tom Clancy novels. Watch a show starring a black woman. Listen to an album by a trans musician. This doesn’t have to feel like homework, I promise. Un-center yourself and you’ll see the world open up.

6. Get over toxic guilt about grooming

I hope coming out of all this Style Girlfriend never has to ease another guy into a solid grooming routine. Natalie Aguilar, a licensed nurse and aesthetician who just opened N4 Skincare in Los Angeles, agrees that it’s well past time that guys get over their weird toxic masculinity-induced guilt about hair and skincare. 

“The very first thing one of my male clients said to me,” she told me, “was ‘I’m only here because my wife sent me. I hope this is a once a year thing!’ 

Can you imagine saying that to a dentist? “Give a sh*t about gum disease? Nah bro, couldn’t be me!”

Aguilar went on, “I have learned not to take it personally because after the facial, this is what comes next. ‘Wow, that was so amazing! How often can I get a facial!’” 

Yeah, of course, because facials feel amazing, and make you look even better. 

At this point, you don’t need your wife, me, or an aesthetician to tell you that taking care of your skin will help slow down, and sometimes reverse, the harmful effects of the environment and normal aging. Or that starting a daily regimen to keep the hair you’ve got is worth the (small) effort. 

And honestly, we probably don’t. Because you probably already know all that! So, consider this your permission to go buck wild when it comes to taking care of your appearance.

Let Aguilar remind you: “Facial treatments can help balance dry skin, keep acne disciplined, lighten discoloration from the sun, and tighten lax skin.” And more hair on your head often translates to more confidence in your interactions.

As protest and pandemic life lessons go, this should be an easy one to put into action. No one’s seen you in higher resolution than a Zoom call in months; why not re-enter the world showing off your best self? 

7. Demonstrate allyship at work

If you’re a woman and/or BIPOC you probably have already counted the number of people in your company who look like you, from entry-level to leadership. If you’re a white male, consider taking stock of how many of your peers and bosses look like you, and if the number is “most of ‘em,” then consider taking time to investigate your feelings around that. 

Do you think it’s because those white men must be more deserving of roles within your company or industry? I hope not! So maybe you blame it on a “pipeline problem” that goes above your pay grade. But y’know, does it really?

If any of this makes your heart drop guiltily into your stomach, even just a little, consider taking a more active role in being part of the solution of workplace equity, rather than a passive part of the problem. 

Sage Ke’alohilani Quiamno, CEO & co-founder of Future for Us has a few ideas.

“Men can become allies to Black professionals by being transparent about their salaries. They can also promote and sponsor their Black colleagues, in particular black womxn, at their companies if they have a position of power. Men can also do the internal work of understanding their privilege and commitment to their anti-racism work.”

I know, none of that sounds as easy as reading a book on anti-racism or going to one protest (while wearing a mask, of course!) and calling it a day. The bad news? It’s not. But we can do hard things!

8. Develop a better relationship with your body

Maybe you’ve heard—or made—a joke about “gaining the COVID-19” during stay-at-home orders. 

This insidious body-shaming sh*t has got to go. 

And I’m preaching to the choir here when it comes to pandemic life lessons to learn because I’m still getting used to the fact that my own body has changed in the past few months, and there’s a good chance I’ll be wearing a size up in swimsuits this summer. Maybe that’s a permanent change; I don’t know. 

I am not saying you have to LOVE your body, or that wanting to eat healthier or work out more is a bad goal. But I think we all can work on accepting our bodies where they’re at. They’ve done a lot for us, including literally keeping us alive through a deadly global pandemic. So maybe cut it some slack? 

I’ve learned a lot on this front from Katie Sturino, an entrepreneur (her Megababe Thigh Rescue keeps me chafe-free on long runs) and body positivity advocate. As she pointed out in a recent podcast interview, women are “taught to hate our body from the start.” She’s right, and I think men feel this too, albeit to a lesser extent (sorry, not sorry). 

So, as Sturino puts it, “the rebellious thing to do right now is f*cking love your body.” 

Let’s continue the conversation on Twitter!

What protest and pandemic life lessons do you have for the graduates of 2020 (aka all of us)?