I’ve had quite a reflective weekend.
And I’ve been thinking about writing some of what follows for a while but not having quite the right words to tackle it. But after a rather inspiring few days spent with some truly magnificent women- I feel like I’ve come across a common thread that’s worth putting down on paper (so to speak).
It was probably almost a decade ago now that my now-husband but then-boyfriend and I took one of those little breaks that happen in relationships in your early 20’s. In retrospect, it was pretty inevitable, with us being quite different and all. I wanted to move in together and he wanted to get out and have a bit of fun and the two points of view didn’t really mesh. So we took a break. Needless to say, we kept in pretty close contact over that time despite ourselves. It wasn’t super easy or anything, but thankfully we eventually sorted our shit out.
However, in the interim I had something of a fling with a boy I’d known since school. We’d been good friends for ages and I’d always found him quite fascinating. But over those few months, I became pretty much totally infatuated with him. He was so sweet and funny, not too hard on the eyes and I found conversation with him to be so completely engrossing and intellectually stimulating. And truth be told- even when it all fell in a heap- it did take me quite a long time to get over him.
The fact of the matter was- he was always pretty forthcoming with me about the fact that he didn’t want a proper relationship despite that in many ways (for all intents and purposes) we were already in one. And in the style of so many, many young women before me- I lied and said I was totally easy-breezy and so fine with that. He seemed to like me for my apparent brutal honesty in areas which were of interest to him so I even a little bit convinced myself that I was cool with the situation. I won’t break it down into intimate detail but there were lots of ways that I really painted myself as a more agreeable version of me over that time. If he said jump, I was already pulling out the trampoline. I was so young and I just liked him so much, I ignored how uncomfortable I was with making myself smaller than I was. In fact, although as a teenager I had become very good at miniaturising myself, it was while I was spending time with this boy that I pretty much reached the pinnacle of littleness. Whittling my real self down to the stage where I was barely noticeable against the backdrop of what he wanted from me. I doubt he realised this fact, but it was still quite hard to come back from.
A couple of years ago I caught up with him online. Although on some level I was pretty excited by this prospect since I’d truly missed his friendship over the years- it was basically horrible. The pressure to once again make myself a certain way in his eyes was palpable. I could hardly believe it. Despite being older and wiser and even without the potential for any sort of romantic attachment, I really felt I should go back to being small. Back to painting myself as sweet and compliant and responsive to what he wanted me to be. But that’s just not who I was (am) anymore. So we left it awkward- him washing his hands of me, and me pissed off and humiliated by the whole damn thing.
The thing is as I’ve been reflecting on those events- it got me thinking- I’m really not comfortable making myself smaller than I am. It’s been such a huge part of societal pressure in my life as a female and I freaking hate it. I’m pretty damn sure there’d be women reading this right now who totally identify with the idea that you must be a ‘good girl’. Or a ‘pretty girl’. Or quiet, easy-going and charming. To squeeze who you are into that tiny little mould or otherwise to self-administer the title of crazy bitch.
Every time a boy was mean to me or physically accosted me and I put up with it. Every time I compared myself to a thinner, prettier or more talented woman. Every time I chose not to participate in something or wear something I liked. Every time I kept my opinion to myself. Every time I pretended to be interested in something I just wasn’t to avoid rocking the boat. Every time these events took place- I made myself smaller. And I’d lay money on it that I’m not a-fucking-lone.
Seems to me that it’s a thing us women do a real awful lot.
And truly, I don’t believe it’s a woman’s natural state to be a ghost.
A woman is really a bold, strong, resilient, love-filled, brilliant, passionate creature with the ability to create and grow. She’s known pain, joy, love and fear and she soldiers on with her head high and her wisdom shining all around her.
I was lucky enough last Friday to hear Julie Tenner (the Pleasure Nutritionist) speak at a MMP Wine Night in Mount Martha. Which is really what kicked off all this hindsight. She is really a wonderful storyteller and shared such wisdom in such a beautiful, articulate way. She explained that young people really need to be given the tools and the language early on to understand their bodies, their minds and their souls as sacred. And to understand their own desires (sexual or otherwise) as sacred. She said, “What is not made sacred, is made shameful”. She added that girls especially cannot express their real truth if they’re too busy trying to shut down their feelings and make themselves more palatable to society. And as parents, we need to give them the skills to use their bodies and their voices to be true to who they are.
Julie also discussed how society really makes us feel that once we become mothers we are often viewed as ‘less than’. Our stretchy scarred bits, our tired eyes, our curves and our hard-work heavy shoulders somehow make us smaller than we once were. Not to mention that motherhood is generally pretty undervalued even though we are literally raising the next generation.
I discussed this idea with some incredible doula/ mum friends of mine yesterday and we pretty much universally agreed that motherhood has really made us all so much more than we were before. Motherhood has made us all so much more intellectually curious, more passionate in life, more open-hearted and more comfortable in our bodies than beforehand. Despite societal pressures, it’s a gift. Women seriously just improve as we get older. And I have to say- given how teeny weeny I felt, I really do not long for my early twenties now. In fact, I’m super keen for my 30’s to start next year.
It occurred to me that as a mother of two girls, I really don’t want them to have to suffer through the idea that they have to reject their natural state. Whatever that may be. I’d hate to think that this next generation will continue to grow into adolescence with the notion that the best a girl could hope for is that she is skinny or pretty or likeable. And I really hope that if they should ever encounter a strong infatuation like I did, they won’t have to even consider shrinking right down to fit that person’s expectations. Especially in this age of social media, dick-pics and porn acting as sexual education, I actually feel like that could be so, so dangerous for kids in general.
I feel that in many ways I am just at the beginning of my journey and maybe I’ll feel totally different by the time my babies are big enough for this stuff to apply. But still, it’s all been playing on my mind and I feel I’m learning as I go along.
“They do what we do, not what we say” was one of the most amazing points Julie made. Meaning, if you want your children to love and respect themselves, you really need to make sure that you love and respect yourself too. And that they clearly see that.
That’s what I plan to do.
And I hope the women reading this will feel as inspired as I was and will give it a go too.
We can work to pass on the confidence and wisdom we’ve gained in adulthood and motherhood to our daughters. We can be the biggest version of ourselves that we care to be. We can get our opinions out there, not worry that we talk too loud or too long and we can wear whatever the fuck we want. Because we are worthy. We are worth looking at and worth listening to.
And so are our kids.
So I hope when the time comes, my girls will shout their loud, raw, real truths for all the world to hear. And I hope shame won’t play such a big part in their lives. And whatever mistakes they might make in relationships- I hope they won’t ever feel the need to make themselves small in the same way I did.