Somewhere, deep in the guttural pit of me, I know that there must be more than this.
That I cannot live my life cowering from my reflection in changing room mirrors, shop windows, backs of spoons and the glistening, inquisitive eyes of others. That despite my assertions of self-worth and superiority, my fuck-you-society-and-pass-me-the-Pringle-tub platitudes, that I still have all too frequent moments of paralysis. Whole minutes of time in which I whittle my body down into bullet points of smoother, slicker, softer, slimmer – knowing that I am silly and frivolous and vapid for relenting into this poisonous vortex of thought and yet cleaving at my flesh with fresh gusto. I told myself long ago that this was not what I wanted to be and not what I would define myself by. But again and again, it comes down this. Whether anyone would look at me and consider me lovable. Or if not that, desirable. Or if not that, fleetingly fuckable. How close my arse cheeks come to the round ripeness of a blushing peach, whether a streak of sunlight could snake its blade through the gap between my obliging thighs. Pretty. Sexy. Hot. Fit. Beautiful. Adjectives that make a girl unfurl herself from lowered eyelids and folded arms and smile with relief. Like she’s been given permission to breathe outwards, to slot herself amongst the blessed.
But I know that there must be more than this.
That surely my friends, my ridiculously clever, insightful, successful, passionate, funny, talented and generous friends, shouldn’t look at all the tools they have to be instigators of all that is awesome and transcendent and yet look mournfully around them for a boy to lace his fingers around their waists and assure them of the wonder locked inside their ribcages. These are girls that are admired and respected by everyone around them and yet when they get drunk and emotional they will slur statements such as ‘I’m just not fit like all the other girls. And you know, that’s whatever, it’s fine. But I just want a boyfriend. Someone to love me. That’s all’. And all I can think is: this search, this hope and wish for that one thing that they are certain will complete them above all else is fruitless. I wish we could step outside of ourselves and understand the momentous depths of our self-induced suppression. How strange and sad it is that we will gather in tribes, swapping tales of our own inadequacies and shortcomings, nodding and egging each other on in our sick blood sport. And we will throw crazy and unattainable things into the air and grasp at them with all the naïve will of a sticky fingered child playing a rigged fairground game.
Quite frankly, I am bored of this now. It serves no one and leaves all parties affirmed in their stagnant self-pity and perpetuates never ending cycles of self-negation. Here’s an idea: tell yourself that you are the shit. Entertain the notion of believing that assertion. And if you’re not yet, tell yourself that you have every intention of working on it until it’s the undisputed truth. When your friend tells you you’re the shit, believe that too. If I tell you that I am happy, that I am confident, that I cross my fingers and choose to see the best in myself against all else, will you give me a withering look? Make a joke about it, look awkwardly around you and quickly continue in your never ending circle of negativity? I really hope that you won’t, as I am only just beginning to build the courage to change my way of thinking and your derision is the only small but significant gust of wind required to knock it over. I appreciate this may seem contrived or sentimental to you because it does to me too. I am aware of my Britishness, my aching youth, the insistent need to inject everything with withering irony and cutting nonchalance that has threaded its way through our culture like sugared cyanide. It’s time we realise that these are all methods of covering up the fact that we feel and that we care, which is what we fear above all else. But I don’t accuse or judge you. Your thought processes are mine as well. I look up to you – I think you are incredible inside and out. To see you rip yourself to shreds rips me apart too. If I am your friend, then surely you can see that you dispute my character judgement by berating yourself. Can we not agree that we both choose to bask in the company of cool, crazy, illuminating beings? When you shrug, when you turn your head away, when you make a flippant joke at the first sign of genuine emotion, you leave us in perpetual limbo.
And still, I know that there is more than this.
Sure, I want to be desired, loved, considered pretty. I know that for better or worse, I will never truly escape this feeling. However, this isn’t about peddling condescending ideas of what ‘real women’ should look like or demonizing people who are skinny and beautiful. In my experience, the women who are put on pedestals for their looks are far more insecure than most would have the perception to realise. So ‘curvy women’ campaigns and other such steaming horseshit really isn’t the answer. (Side note: Fashion magazine spreads with size fourteen women squeezed into mumsy ‘form-flattering’ wrap dresses and smiles like tortured circus monkeys on stilts do not make me feel more ‘sexy’ or ‘womanly’. They make me feel very, very nervous and slightly itchy behind the eyes. Thanks anyway, Cosmo). For me, the solution seems to be a shift away from the physical entirely. When I think of the people I truly admire, it is their incredible talents that I aspire to. Yes, Beyonce Knowles is an unrefuted stunner. But she is also a stupidly gifted singer, dancer and athlete. This woman has her fair share of naysayers, but I defy you to see her live and tell me she is not a one woman storm of bad-assedness. But if you are going to admire her body, admire its stamina, its health, its vitality, its ability to ‘bear the children, then get back to bid-ness’.
And I go beyond Queen Bee – I want to be a little bit of Nina Simone, of Christopher Hitchens, of Michelle Obama, of Salman Rushdie, of Raymond Carver, of Charles Darwin and Meryl Streep. All crazy talented and accomplished people who will be remembered for what they contributed to the world, not just some sexy backless number they wore on the red carpet once, #Scandalous. Why admire things that have no function? I can see the point in aspiring to have a strong, toned body that can endure and will withstand the inevitable knocks of life – there is inherent beauty in that, for sure. Hit the gym, eat well, dance in your pants freely and often, whatever gets you going. But I cannot find any true attributes in a body whose primary function is decorative. We are on this Earth to actually get shit done at the end of the day. And we can look fly whilst doing it too, but as far as I can see it’s a simple matter of getting the priorities the right way round.
Essentially, I now realise that ‘pretty’ is a long way down on a list of things that I want for myself. I know that I want to be intelligent. Fiercely so. Undeniably so. Fill my head with the words of those who trod this earth with a far bolder stride than I will ever attain. Read a fuckton of literature and be able to quote my favourite poems from memory. I want to be open minded – to be able to listen to someone whose life experiences and innate voice are completely different to mine but still manage to forge a bridge of understanding along the gulf. I want to observe things sharply – to make people laugh and laugh readily at others’ wit and goofiness. And I want to be many other things besides: incessantly silly, self-reflexive, wise, patient, brave, kind, honest, unbeatable at Scrabble, the owner of a lifetime’s supply of white chocolate covered Oreos. I want to accumulate experiences and sights and people’s stories and collect them for the dusty mantelpiece of my mind. And the more I add to this list, the further down that word ‘pretty’ falls until I have to squint to remember it is even there: it is a mere speck of inconsequential dust in an ambivalent horizon. Perhaps one day it will drop away of its own accord. Perhaps I will achieve it through some strange twist of fate whilst I’m busy enjoying my life. I leave that to the cosmos.
I am aware that I am adding to an already voluminous pile of opinions, tirades and thought pieces on the ‘body-issues’ topic and that it is all getting rather tedious. So hopefully this will be the last I shall say on the matter. But like anything to do with the fragile human ego, this is not going to be a confident linear stride to complete and unwavering ‘self-love’ (whatever that dishwater term is supposed to mean). I do abrupt U-turns on myself some mornings and it can feel like I am back on square one, ready to sink into the quicksand with a soft resignation. But then I remind myself that I can, and must, strive for more. Because surely there has to be more. And when I’ve found it, I will grab fistfuls of it like a greedy child and hold on to it tight. Like my life, and my sanity, depended on it. It’s scary. But I’m almost certain it’s the best decision I’ve ever made. That, and not buying a wrap dress.
Peace, love and perseverance,