Don’t Be Afraid to Be Yourself

I know a woman who has been in multiple abusive relationships in the past. As a result, she has been dealing with many mental health issues as well, and I did not know any of this about her until recently, when she started talking very openly about both issues and her own experience with them. There are those who tell her that she shouldn’t talk about these things, that all she is doing is hurting her previous abusers by spreading this information about them, or making herself look bad because she is publicly admitting to dealing with mental illness, and yet she continues to talk about them. And she talks about them because this is how she feels, this is her experience, and staying quiet about it was only making her life worse, only making her suffer more.

I know a woman who recently got out of a bad relationship, during which she was neglecting her health and her relationship with other people. And when asked how she was, she didn’t just smile and say “fine” like we are taught to do; she opened up and told her story. She explained what she had been though, how she was trying to reorder her life into something that would make her happy. When I heard her do this, I was a little bit taken aback, because I could already hear the comments that I have heard about people who are eager to share their personal thoughts and experiences: that no one cares, just say you’re fine and move on, everyone’s too busy dealing with their own dumb lives to hear about yours – but personally, I disagree. I liked hearing her story. I thought that she was incredibly brave to be willing to tell it. She risked being silenced, but instead she opened up, and I felt like I got to know her a little bit better because of it. I saw her humanity, not the front that we are all taught to put up all the time.

I know a man who recently lost his dog. To give you an idea about what sort of man this is, he’s a grown man who goes to the gym very regularly, and as a result he is a very large, very muscular man, and his dog of choice has always been a chihuahua. He loves his chihuahuas. And today, he was telling the story of how he his dog passed away, and as he told it, I could tell that he was very emotionally affected, even now. He told about how, the day after it happened, he went to the gym only because he didn’t want to face an empty home, and all throughout his workout, he cried over the loss of his dog. He talked about how he used to take her for walks with her sparkly, pink collar, and people would make comments about him because he’s a big man with a tiny dog, but he didn’t care. He loved her.

I tell you about these people because, today, I find myself awed by them: the people who are unapologetically themselves. The people who know that what they feel and who they are won’t always be accepted, but they express it anyway. There are too few of these people out there.

Because, end of day, we all experience things that not everyone is going to like, and this can be any number of things. Maybe you’re dealing with mental illness. Maybe you’re going through a hard time. Maybe you want to do something (harmless) that society tells you you shouldn’t because of something frivolous like your place in life or your gender identity. Maybe you’re gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. Maybe it’s any number of things that we as a society are told, again and again, that we can’t do, when there’s really no logical reason for it. There’s no reason to hide who you are, and doing so is only harmful in the long run.

When you hide who you are, you hurt who you are. You internalize the idea that what you are is wrong if it has to be hidden, which can then turn into self-loathing, or feelings of guilt. When you hide the fact that you are dealing with mental illness, then you don’t ever improve – you just began to feel as though it’s your fault, as though you’re just looking for attention, you’re weak or stupid, when this isn’t the case. You’re ill. That’s all.

When you hide how you’re feeling, those feeling don’t go away; they fester. You feel as though they’re wrong, so you don’t act on them, but because you think that they’re wrong, you punish anyone who does act on them. You mock them, look down on them, tell them that they’re stupid for expressing how they feel, that no one cares to hear it. End of day, there are many people who say these sorts of things because they have restrained themselves to the point that they are not free to be themselves.

And we should all have that freedom.

But I know; it’s scary to be unapologetically yourself. I get that, trust me. We live in a society that tells us that so many things are wrong that it’s impossible for us to be completely right. And when you’re constantly told that something is wrong, it’s difficult for us to turn our minds around on that regard. But it’s worth doing, because it’s worth knowing that you are not wrong.

And when you are yourself, fully and completely, not afraid to be dismissed as stupid or selfish or silly or wrong (because when you are yourself, you will be dismissed as this by some people, and that’s okay), a wonderful thing starts to happen: you will be loved for who you really and truly are. Your relationships with other people will be much deeper, much more personal, because people will always know the real you, not some front that you put up to be considered “acceptable”. There will always be those who look down on you, but there will be those who admire you too, those you see you in all of your great you-ness and say, “wow, I wish that I could be that unashamed”.

We all long for freedom, and this is one great way that you can find it: the freedom to be who you are. The freedom to not care what others think about that. The freedom to love yourself and all you are, even if who you are is messy, emotional, hurt, struggling, outside the norm, or just trying their best. There’s nothing wrong with being any of that; the only thing that’s wrong is forcing people to suppress themselves.

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Why You Need to Do More Than Tell Others to Love Themselves

Social media is absolutely filled with people telling you to love yourself.

People who tell you that your stretch marks are tiger stripes. Your body weight is natural, you are a real woman and therefore you are not expected to look like the women on the covers of magazines.

Maybe you even tell other people the same thing. Maybe you respond to every proclamation of “I’m so fat!” by telling them, “so what? A person’s beauty is not correlated to their weight”, and then you turn around and judging your own image in the mirror.

I know I do.

Logically speaking, I know that there is more than one correct way of being a person in this world. I know that the things we think of as physical flaws are not flaws at all – they’re just parts of us, parts that society tells us that we should be ashamed of, but why? What’s wrong with them, really? Why are we always so hard on ourselves? Why can’t we just learn to accept the parts of ourselves that come naturally, the parts that aren’t hurting anybody, the parts that are not wrong, they’re just different and character-building? What’s wrong with them?

I know all this logically, but accepting that is another matter.

We tend to hold ourselves to a different standard than we do other people. We think that it’s important for other people to love themselves, but it doesn’t matter so much for ourselves. We would hate the idea of someone else staring into the mirror and agonizing over their appearance, wishing that they could change this or that, and yet we do it to ourselves all the time. And of course we do. We live in a society that constantly tells us that we should second-guess ourselves. That we aren’t enough, that we’ll never be enough. We still need to go out there and buy that mascara to make our lashes longer, that lipstick to make our lips larger, do that exercise to make our tummies toned. It’s never enough. The to-do list grows longer and longer with every new advertisement.

But when it comes to body positivity, we need to practice what we preach.

It is one thing to tell people that they are beautiful, that they should love themselves despite how society tells them they should feel. This is a very wonderful thing, because this is a message that we should be spreading. But at the same time, we deserve to know how it feels to truly love ourselves. To look in the mirror and accept all that you see. To know, without any semblance of doubt, that there is no love that we don’t deserve, that we don’t have to settle or hide ourselves, because there is nothing wrong with us. We deserve confidence, and honest confidence – not the sort of confidence that tears other people down, but the sort that builds them up, that makes them look at you and think, “wow, I’d love to be that comfortable in my skin”.

We all deserve that, no matter who you are or how you look.

So start taking the steps toward loving yourself, rather than simply telling other people that they should love themselves. And maybe part of taking those steps is, quite simply, pretending to love yourself. Not necessarily in front of other people – you might do that already, telling them that you love yourself just to prove a point, to pretend to be an example, but when it really counts is when you’re alone. When no one else can hear you, and you have to force yourself to change the language that you use to describe yourself. When you catch yourself thinking something like “ugh, I’m so gross”, change that around to be something positive, something like “I’m really cute today”. Because when you force yourself to think that way, eventually you won’t be forcing yourself anymore – you’ll just start to think that way.

And you should. You are beautiful. You are loveable and unique and amazing and strong. You come complete with so much experience that nobody else has but you – because nobody has lived their lives in quite the same way that you have. You deserve so much more than you think you do, and you deserve to feel comfortable in your own skin. So allow yourself. And don’t do it for me, and don’t do it to prove to others that it is possible to love yourself; do it for yourself. Do it selfishly. Do it because you are amazing, and because it will make you even better. Do it because the world is filled with more than enough hypocrites, telling you to love yourself while simultaneously judging themselves, and you shouldn’t have to be that.

Don’t Let Someone Else Live Your Life

There’s this issue in society that I’ve seen come up again and again, and I’ve seen it in multiple forms.

When I was in high school, I would always answer the question of “what do you want to be when you grow up?” with “I want to be a writer”, to which most teachers would respond, “oh, that’s not a practical job, you can’t make much money with that. Why don’t you do something else – you could be a teacher instead.”

The other day, when I was at the gym, I met a woman in her fifties who was enthusing over another woman’s bright red and orange dreadlocks, and she mentioned that she had recently gone to the hairdresser’s asking for a funky haircut herself, to which the hairdresser responded, “oh, you’re much too old for that, I wouldn’t do that to you.”

I recently read an article about a girl who described herself as ‘fat’, and she stated that when she went to the beach in her bikini, she was spotted by a woman who responded to her by saying, “you’re much too big for that bikini, I don’t want to see that. Why don’t you wear something that covers you up a bit more?”

And I very recently watched a video posted on Elle Magazine’s Facebook page discussing an eight year old boy who enjoyed dressing and performing as a drag queen, and in this video he mentioned that he knew other kids who would go to their parents saying that they wanted to be drag queens, to which their parents would respond “you’re too young to even know what that is”.

Now, there’s a lot going on in all of these examples, but the common theme that I notice, the thing that really gets under my skin, is this idea of telling other people what they can and can’t be, the acceptable ways of expressing themselves, based off of your limited understanding of who they are and what they are capable of.

And this happens so often, and in so many different ways. In the above mentioned examples, we see at least three different types of discrimination as well.

In the example of the woman in her fifties wanting to get a funky haircut, we see a prime example of ageism, or discrimination against someone based on their age. The woman was deemed to be too old to look good with a funky hairstyle, and so the hairdresser refused to give it to her, but when it really comes down to it – why? Why wouldn’t she look good with a funky hairstyle? And more than that, who is the hairdresser to judge if she would or would not? If the woman in question wants to express herself in that way, and if it would make her feel more comfortable in her own skin, then what is so wrong about it? But we as a society have a very basic understanding of what someone in that age group should be – they should be humble, quiet, non-offensive, ready to wind down and start taking things slow, and so when someone comes along to challenge all that, we don’t like it. We tell them that they can’t do that. Which is really unfair, because it limits the way that they get to express themselves and find comfort in their own skin.

In the example of the larger woman in a bikini, we see one of the most classic examples of fat shaming. I don’t know a whole lot about the woman in her bikini – I don’t know if she felt like she was rocking the bikini or if she was already a little bit self-conscious about it, but the one thing I do know is that she did not deserve to be told that she shouldn’t wear it. Because she should. If she wants to put her body in a bikini, then she should put that body in a bikini, and she should have the opportunity to go out and look fabulous and be her beautiful self. Her body and her bikini was not the problem here. The problem was the other woman’s limited idea of what beauty is. She decided (because she was told this by society) that only thin women look good in bikinis, and therefore, only thin women should wear bikinis. Larger women should spend their lives enrobed by the shame one-piece, forever going to the beach in frumpy tee shirts and acceptably covering shorts.

And lastly, in the example of the children who wanted to dress in drag, we see an example of sexism and/or homophobia. A lot of people see gender as a very two-way street: you are either male or female, and especially when it comes to children, a lot of parents fear that deviating from that two-way street will result in their children becoming ‘other’. Their sons will grow up gay, their daughters will grow up confused, cats will live with dogs, havoc will erupt upon the city, and dear god, will someone please think of the children! There are two major problems with this thinking: 1) we already force children who are LGBT+ to act straight and/or cis-gendered, but that doesn’t cause them to grow up to be straight and/or cis-gendered, and 2) this sort of thinking hinges on the belief that being LGBT+ is wrong and must therefore be avoided. Children must give a very limited, very prescribed performance of gender, or else they risk becoming queer, but even if they did, what would be wrong with that? And, almost worse, by telling children that they shouldn’t know what drag queens or anything similar to that are, you are indirectly telling them that being a drag queen or anything similar is wrong or dirty, which poses one of two risks: either they start treating their fellow LGBT+ children accordingly, or they internalize these opinions about themselves, that they are wrong and they are dirty, because they are LGBT+. We associate being gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, gender-queer, drag queen, etc., as being an ‘adult thing’, but most everyone who falls under those categories as an adult can tell you that it started somewhere in their childhood, or that they knew it all along. So if this is the case, and if children most certainly can be something other than straight or cis-gendered, then why do we force them to act otherwise?

One of our societies many problems is that we are constantly limiting one another. We see each other in very basic, very simple ways, and then we act accordingly: a person is either fat, thin, young, old, child, woman, man, this, or that, and when they start to step outside of those lines, to challenge our ways of seeing them, we tell them, “oh, no, no, don’t you do that – get back into that line where you belong!”

But that isn’t how things works. People are more than the labels we give them, and they should be allowed to express themselves in any way that they see fit.

So if you are a fifty, sixty, ninety year old woman who wants to get a bright green mohawk, do it! If you’re four hundred pounds of pure awesome and you want to wear your stylish new bikini to the beach, then please be the most beautiful, most confident person there! If you want to dress in drag, or express your gender in a way that is sort of unconventional, then you will look all the better for it because you will be expressing who you truly are, and nothing is more beautiful than that!

And to go back to the example of my wanting to be a writer – if you have a dream that other people tell you is unrealistic, but you still need to pursue it, then pursue it for all it’s worth. Trust me, it will make your life so much more fulfilling.

Don’t ever let someone else live your life for you. You are amazing, and you are so incredibly strong and capable. So even if you do face the occasional doubter or nay-sayer, just remember that they’re speaking from a very limited understanding and that they don’t know you. You know you, and at the end of the day, you are the only person who has to be satisfied with your life.

We Need to Be Selfish

Selfishness is a character trait that gets sort of a bad name. Along with traits like greed, ambition, and pride, selfishness is one of those traits that you rarely see in the story’s hero, unless it’s a flaw that needs to be overcome. Selfishness belongs to the villain. It is a problem, a word to dismiss your choices and behaviour as wrong.

“You’re being so selfish” is just another way of saying “you shouldn’t do that”.

But I’m going to offer up a rebuttal to all of that today: personally, I think we all kind of need to be selfish at certain times in our life.

I’m certainly not going to deny that selfishness can be a problem, especially in excess, but aren’t most things already a problem in excess?

Selfishness becomes a problem when you are consistently ignoring another person’s feelings and putting your needs above theirs.

Selfishness becomes a problem when you become absolutely incapable of looking beyond yourself and seeing things from another perspective.

But at the same time, it’s difficult to deny that the opposite of excessive selfishness, and by that I mean excessive selflessness, can also be just as much of a problem.

If you spend your life living for other people, you risk losing your sense of identity. You become their caretaker, or a filter for their thoughts. You waste all your energy trying to make them happy, so that you have none left to make yourself happy. When all you care about is other people, then you stop caring about yourself – and we have seen multiple examples of this.

For example, mothers are often considered one of our society’s most prime examples of selflessness, but 11 to 20% of women who give birth in the United States report symptoms of postpartum depression, meaning that more women will be diagnosed with postpartum depression in one year than men or women will be diagnosed with tuberculosis, leukemia, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, lupus, or epilepsy. And yet, only 15% of these women will ever receive treatment for their postpartum depression because there is such an intense stigma against mothers who suffer from it. These are women are literally not taking care of themselves because they have been told by society that it is more important that they take care of their children. That if they don’t drop everything and put their children first, then they are selfish and, therefore, bad mothers.

And if postpartum depression goes untreated, it can result in some very dangerous, life-altering side effects, like chronic depression and anxiety for the mother, and complications in the child’s development.

And I’m not trying to say that mothers with postpartum depression should neglect their children completely; all I’m trying to say is that there needs to be a balance between caring for yourself and caring for others.

And you don’t even need to be a mother to need this balance too. I have known many people who spent years dedicated to other people, whether it be to a parent, a sibling, or whatever, doing whatever they could to make them happy, until one day they just couldn’t anymore. They realized that nothing they had done had made them happy, that they didn’t even really know who they were, and they needed to take time for themselves and find out who they were. Sometimes this means partying. Often this means rebellion. And every time I have seen someone do this, they did it because they needed to. It is because they could not do anything else anymore.

I have also known people who never came to this point where they realized they weren’t happy; they just kept serving other people, more and more of them falling away until they were just a ghost. They didn’t have their own opinions. They didn’t stand up for themselves. They just parroted the things that others said to them, reflecting them more than they did themselves.

I’m not trying to say that taking care of others is not a fulfilling thing to do. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t consider other opinions. All that I am trying to say is that you are just as important as anyone else.

You deserve the chance to be yourself. You deserve the chance to build your own identity and become comfortable in it. You deserve the chance to understand what you believe in and how your mind works and when you are not well, and all of those things are bought through selfishness. Through taking the time away from other people and focusing on yourself.

The main component throughout all of this is balance.

You need to know that other people matter, but you need to know that you matter too. You matter just as much as anyone else does. And just like your parents or children or whatever the case may be, you deserve love and kindness and understanding. If you rob yourself of this, that is when you risk becoming a ghost.

So be a little bit selfish. You need selfishness. We demonize it too often in our society, when the truth is that it is just as dangerous and just as beautiful as selflessness.

My Life is Mine

I am a person.

I have hands, feet, fingers, toes.

I have teeth, claws, muscle, bone.

I have a soul.

And my soul is mine.

You can reach in and touch my soul, feel it, affect it, make it grow.

But you cannot take my soul.

In your hands, my soul will wither, welt, and die.

I have seen what you have done to souls in your hands.

You change them. You do not make them grow, you keep them stunted. You do not protect them, you conceal them. You do not show them the path, you take them by the hand and make them walk behind you.

I have seen what you have done to her, and she is my fear.

She who has never made her own decision in her life.

She who just took what came to her and accepted.

She who was passive, she who allowed.

I will not be her.

I am a storm, a force to be reckoned with.

I am the maker of plans, the wielder of my own world.

I stand up tall and I say what I will.

I hold my soul out before me and I keep it within my own grasp, because my soul is mine.

And maybe I will fail, but you know what? I want to fail.

I want to skin my knee.

I want to fall down flat on my face, because only by doing that will I find out if I have the strength to pick myself back up.

I need to fail. I need to be scared. I need to cry and suffer and second-guess, because all of that comes with making your own decisions. With doing the thing that isn’t easy.

And I don’t want my life to be easy.

I want it to be mine.