I realised that it’s been a while since I’ve blogged. Mostly I think it’s because I haven’t felt like I have anything to say. But as it turns out, I think we all have something to say, and something to offer each other.
I’m going to try to contribute what I can here and would love any contribution from you in return.
I have always been “for women” and “pro equality” but have fervently shied away from identifying myself as a feminist.
To me feminism has always suggested women who are angry man haters; who believe that they are superior, leaving men inferior. A woman who degrades a man at any opportunity, and often publicly. A woman who is abrasive, harsh and completely and ironically unfeminine.
The word feminism left a bad taste in my mouth.
When I would tell people about my instagram account, or what I was blogging about, I would share my message for people to love themselves and accept who they are. But I would immediately follow with a long-winded monologue about how “I’m not one of those man haters, or women who can’t take a joke.” Which is totally at odds with my passionate position of self-love that I should be proud of rather than feel I have to defend.
In my life I have been drawn to those areas where I can support women, even in some small way. I have worked in a number of woman-centric fields. I did youth work, gave talks to groups of girls about self-esteem, and went to uni to train as a midwife. I have always had a passion for empowering and advocating for women. But I have unknowingly been living the life of a feminist and simultaneously being repelled and ashamed of that label.
I remember talking to my mum when I first started this journey to self-love that I’m on, telling her about the #effyourbeautystandards movement. Telling her that there is an uprising of women that believe they deserve to be seen as beautiful, sexy and desired even if they’re above a size 10. She likened it to women’s liberation in the 60’s. That idea really resonated with me.
But the oppressors of women are not only men these days: they are women, like me.
Women who have found the word itself derogatory.
When actually it’s about equality, about equal rights, not pushing one gender down to raise the other up.
So I’ve decided to reclaim the F word for myself. To be a proud, grounded, intelligent, warm, feminine, prissy, sassy, tender feminist.
I watched a video of Emma Watson addressing the UN for their ‘He for She’ campaign. Reminding us that feminism is not solely a women’s issue, it’s an equality issue, a human issue. It’s a poignant and powerful speech I’d encourage everyone to listen to. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p-iFl4qhBsE
If you are like me and believe that men and women deserve equality in our societies, man or woman, I urge you to reclaim feminism for what it is.
A basic human right.
There are those times in life when things don’t always go to plan and people comfort us by saying things like “You have three choices really. You can let this moment define you. Let it destroy you. Or you can let it strengthen you”. Or, “Our lives are not determined by what happens to us, but by how we react to what happens.”
These quotes have the power to inspire or frustrate; and from my own experience I can tell you that it is much easier for people to give this advice than it is to actually put it into practice. But I do think their messages are spot on though… at least in theory. My trip to India totally put them to the test.
I preface these personal anecdotes with the fact that I loved India; most of the people I met were wonderful – joyful and generous. A 6ft tall, size 26, white girl was bound to stand out. And stand out I did!
I was in Delhi for three weeks staying with friends who were working over there. I have been to several developing countries, so I was as prepared as I could be for the culture shock. I have faced people staring at me before, but my experiences in India took the fledgling struggle for self-acceptance to new heights.
On one of the first days, my friend and I were in a small grocery store, simply buying water and fruit, you can imagine my surprise when the business owner, complete with huge grin and head wobble, asked me, “Are you sumo wrestler?” …yep, a sumo wrestler. And as I stood there in total disbelief, crushed and utterly speechless, my friend whisked the groceries out of my hands and slammed them back on the counter. On my behalf she was totally outraged. In fluent Hindi and complete with head wobble, she proceeded to tell the man just how rude and ill mannered he had been; and that she would never shop there again.
You can see how this moment presented me with a choice – define, destroy, or strengthen? Not as easy or quick decision to make.
Not put off by the ill-mannered shopkeeper I ventured out by myself to visit an ancient fort. The architecture was beautiful, the gardens were lush, it was quiet and peaceful amidst the unbelievable chaos that is Delhi. I wandered around the gardens appreciating their incredible beauty, and thinking also about the poverty that is everywhere. I felt grateful for my simple life, and thankful that I was, by chance, fortunate to be born in Australia.
Again I noticed people looking at me and whispering. As they approached I was instantly filled with dread, my mind and soul still tender and vulnerable from my previous encounter…what were they going to say, would they be unkind? I know I’m overweight; I don’t need strangers to remind me! But when they reached me, a baby was thrust into my arms with someone insistent pleading, “Photo madam, photo?” with a crowd forming around me, all striking a pose. I didn’t know if I felt like a celebrity or a circus freak!
Once I identified the baby’s mother, I bee lined for the exit only to be caught by a group of student teachers who also wanted a photo with me. Now I’ve got to say, 40+ people forming a circle around you, all speaking broken English at you, is quite an intimidating experience. But again this moment also presented me with the same choice – define, destroy, or strengthen?
After laying low for a few days to compose myself after all of the attention, I collected myself and embarked on my next adventure. As I left the safety of my friends apartment, five steps down the road, both an auto and cycle rickshaw were staring at me so intensely as they were driving past that they crashed into each other. I caught their attention in such a big way, I caused a road accident! In this moment I again had choices, was I to laugh or cry? I chose laugh!
The constant staring and comments from shopkeepers, people on the street, anyone who thought they had the right to, was draining and confronting. It was exhausting and forced me to search within myself for answers. I decided I would ‘fake it till I made it.’ I would hear their comments but I wouldn’t listen to them, or let them into my heart. It wasn’t a decision I made once, but a decision I had to make every moment I was out in public – as cars slowed down to look at me, as strangers stood on the street there with mouths open aghast. I had to consciously make that decision to let it go, over and over again.
With my ‘fake it till you make it’ mantra going around in my head we made the trek to the Taj Mahal. As you can imagine, it was magnificent and awe inspiring. It was a place that I was confident that I would not stand out; after all I was in the shadow of a wonder of the world, but no. After looking around the grounds and the mausoleum in 45° [107°] heat we rested on a ledge of the Taj Mahal itself, astounded by its beauty. Soon that familiar feeling of being watched washed over me and people began milling around. A middle aged woman approached and made the ask, “Photo madam, photo?”
Are you kidding? We were at the Taj Mahal, why was I getting the attention?! So I decided I would take control. “If you want a photo madam, it will be 10 rupee,” I firmly stated and went back to talking to my friends. As she walked away I felt triumphant…until she returned with the cash, all 17 cents of it! In shock and disbelief I put my arm around her and smiled, trying not to look stunned. As she walked back to her family to show them her prize, my friends and I were in hysterics! I chose laughter!
That wasn’t the end of it, just the beginning actually. Soon after a mother and toddler approached me for a photo, after informing them of the charge, she walked away to her husband, then he walked away. I again felt triumphant, until her husband returned handed her something and over she came with a big smile. He didn’t have the correct change so he went off to get it! So as not to disappoint I again posed for the photo. As I looked over my shoulder I could again see my friends doubled over with laughter. At this point a line was forming, all of them waiting patiently to have their photo taken with me. It was getting out of control so we had to leave. It was truly funny and what an experience, again I was faced with the decision, and I chose celebrity rather than freak.
When put to the test, when I had the option to laugh or cry, to hide away or step out bolder, I’m glad I chose to keep living. What would you have done? What would you have chosen?
The reality is people can be cruel to those of us who don’t fit the ‘perfect’ mold. And how I see it, if I hide away, cower in a corner and stop living the way I want to, then they win, I’m admitting defeat and by default endorsing their opinion. I don’t want to be robbed of life or voluntarily surrender it. Everyone has a right to their own opinion, but I don’t have to agree or conform to it.
Being asked if I was a wrestler wasn’t my finest hour and at first I was horrified and crushed. But instead of focusing on how rubbish that made me feel, it occurred to me, that the shopkeeper was just plain rude, tactless and clueless about the depth and breadth of the beauty and riches in the world. It says much more about him than it does about me. Instead of focusing on my hurt or insecurity, I laughed and felt pity for him, and my anger and shame dissipated. I thought I’d be embarrassed to talk of this encounter, but really, the absurdity moves it from something that makes me sad and insecure to something that is ridiculously hilarious.
People are going to throw things at you no matter what your size, shape, gender or race, it’s up to you if you catch them, and if you do catch them, what basket will you put them in? The basket that breaks you, defines you or the one that strengthens you?
the crop top
It occurred to me that I am allowed to wear whatever I want. I’m allowed to feel sexy, comfortable, empowered and free in whatever I choose to wear. The only permission I need is my own. This revelation was liberating.
My self love journey began about a year ago, in the shower of all places. I was washing my hair, and I noticed how rough I was being, just to get the job done. It started me thinking about how I think about and treat my body. Not just when I’m ‘treating’ myself, but in the daily mundane times that make up a life. It occurred to me that if I were washing my best friend’s hair there is no way I would be as absent minded or rough as I had been with myself. I would be gentle and sensuous. I would show my love with every sudsy stroke.
So why on earth wasn’t I doing this for myself?! Why could I show love to my friend but not to me?
I got to thinking that at some point in my life, somewhere deep inside my head, I had decided that my body wasn’t something to be valued, or treasured. I certainly respected and appreciated my mind and my soul, and put a lot of time and effort into expanding and loving those parts. But I had been ignoring my body, my big, curvaceous, voluptuous body. Perhaps I was ashamed, or didn’t want to confront what I had always perceived as a deficiency – that I must endure rather than enjoy my six-foot, extremely curvy frame.
This view of myself was pervasive and persistent throughout my childhood, my adolescence, and every moment of every day during my 20’s and adulthood. This mindset had power, it was fierce!
Learning to be a good friend to myself was not going to be easy. How does one go about showing deep affection and unconditional love to a friend that you have known your entire life, but not appreciated or cared about? You need to admit that deep down you really do love them, and set forth to build a relationship.
I knew I needed to do something radical, after all I was on a mission to become more positive about my body in the here and now. I was intent in changing this thirty-year habit; it was almost like starting a new job. I knew it would feel awkward, messy and uncomfortable and I’d feel totally out of my depth not knowing what to expect; for the first little while at least.
I decided to start a secret Instagram page. I would show pictures of myself, out there, into the world for anyone to potentially see. I posted pics that showed parts of me that I’d spent a lifetime hiding, from everyone. Friends, family, strangers – everyone. But I had a rule, any pics that went up were all photos I’d be happy for my grandmother to see!
I showed the world my big arms, my wobbly belly AND MY THIGHS! It gave me such a rush – terror and joy fused together. There was no way a novice photographer armed with nothing but an iphone could disguise the ‘flaws’. But those flaws are me; they are what they are, and I am who I am.
It was thrilling and it was my secret, until a random person from the other side of the world commented, ‘beautiful’. I didn’t think anyone would bother looking at my photos or actually want to! And I certainly didn’t expect to see any comments at all. Something inside me was shifting, I began to feel more confident and I even started to wear lipstick. But not your nudes or lightweight glosses, I went for the brightest, boldest and reddest reds I could find. This was a lipstick I couldn’t hide behind, like it or not I was out there!
It was terrifying and wonderful to be so exposed but it got to the point that it didn’t make sense for me to have this online persona who was vivacious and confident about her body yet I hadn’t shared her with those who mean the most to me and who already love me just the way I am. So with my spankin’ new body-positive attitude I told my mum and a couple of friends about this new me; and at this point it all got very real.
I wasn’t an anonymous person on Instagram anymore. I was me, and my friends could see me, and the parts of my body I had been so ashamed of for so long.
My courage was tested knowing my friends were seeing my body in all its glory, and I was eventually going to have to look them in the eye. It’s easy to be confident in front of strangers from the other side of the world, but far harder if they’re in the same room.
When I had my confession sessions with my friends about my secret page it was liberating. I explained that I am part of a movement about redefining beauty standards. Being ‘body positive’ does not mean ‘big is better’ it means that whether we are big or small, men or women, we all have the right to be sexy, confident and admired, through our own eyes at the very least.
Although I realised it’s nice to get the compliments, that’s not why I created this page. I did it to show myself that I’m not ashamed to put myself out there – as I am. I am confident in my mind, soul and now finally learning to love my body. Some people have found me sexy – good, sometimes I am. If no one looked at my Instagram page I’d still do it. It shows my demons I’m not afraid of them, anymore.
This was only the beginning of my body-positive journey, and since then it’s been a steep and amazing rise upwards. Last summer here in Australia and I challenged myself to a ‘sleeveless summer’. Usually I wear cover ups, cardigans, anything to cover my big arms, even in 45° [113°]! Not because I enjoyed roasting myself, but because I thought that people would be offended or judge me. So I pushed myself out of my habitual cardigan-wearing craziness and trying something new, bare arms!
Here’s a thought I’d like to leave you with. I was out for coffee with a gal pal, trialing my new 2014 ‘sleeveless summer’ look and mid conversation I said, ‘OMG! I’m not wearing sleeves, I am freaking out!’ And do you know what she said to me? She said, ‘Oh, I didn’t even notice.’ So while I was anxious and hyper aware of my naked arms, she just got on with the conversation.
It’s funny how we can beat ourselves up and hide our true selves because of what we believe people think of us, sort of crazy don’t you think…
I’m a fervent believer that it’s not what you look at that matters, but it’s what you see. I believe that accepting who you are, in the here and now is the best beginning of all journeys. I may not be as healthy or as evolved as I want to be, but self love is the starting point I choose. Only good things can come from there.
I want to share who I am and my life’s ups and downs, in the hope that anyone reading will feel less alone in their struggles, and to look at life with a smile and a giggle. I am a big girl in a small world, you may not be, but we all have a soul that needs lovin’.