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.

Dear Ten Year Old Me

Dear Ten Year Old Me:

Hi! How are you doing? Stupid question, sorry; I know how you’re doing. You’re ten years old, still relatively new to your school, and you don’t really have much for friends. Most of the kids your age make fun of you because they think you’re weird, and so you spend your recesses playing with your little sister instead. I get it. I remember.

So I guess I’m writing to tell you that things are going to change. A lot is going to change, in fact.

Eventually, you are going to make friends. No, not a lot of them, but some, and the ones that you make are going to be good ones. They’re going to be kind and funny, and they’re going to introduce you to a lot of new and amazing things. Life is going to get better for you, I promise.

And those parts of you that everyone dismisses as ‘strange’ and ‘unlikeable’ now? They’re the things that are going to make you special someday: your imagination, your enthusiasm, your passion. Don’t give up on them. Don’t allow them to chip away at your uniqueness and shape you into something more acceptable, more palatable. Because someday, you’re going to need your strangeness so that you can stand out, so that you can say something new that might actually help someone. The world needs strange people, even if it isn’t always accepting of them.

Over the next few years, you’re going to be told a lot of things, ten year old me. You’re going to be told what the proper way to act is, what the proper way to live your life is, and you’re going to need the confidence to know when to take them seriously or not. There is no one proper way to live your life, and teachers don’t always understand that, but you’re going to learn it someday. You’re going to come to see that there are no simple steps to a fulfilling life; you just need to figure it out along the way, and the only surefire step that will keep you from a fulfilling life is giving up parts of yourself. Teachers will encourage you to do that. They’ll tell you that parts of you are wrong, that you need to learn to be more practical, more focused on making money than anything else, and although this is a lot of weight to put on your tiny shoulders, you are going to need the strength to stand up to them and say “no”.

Oh, ten year old me, there are so many things that I want to warn you about, and so many things that I can’t wait for you to experience. But if I could give you another piece of advice, it would be just this: talk.

When you’re sixteen years old, someone is going to break your heart, and you’re going to have a hard time getting over it because that someone is going to be of your own gender, making you feel like you have no one to talk to about it. But you do. It won’t always be obvious, but you have a fantastic support network around you that want to help you through things exactly like this. You’re going to learn that when you’re eighteen, and you lose a year of your life wallowing in depression, and the only way that you’re going to figure out how to pull yourself out of it is by reaching out to someone – is by talking.

The way you feel is not wrong, ten year old me. It’s just another part of you. And when you stop forcing yourself to feel ashamed of it, you’re going to realize that. You’re going to have a much easier time managing it.

You’re going to spend a lot of time stressed over the future for the next little while, but don’t bother. It will all work itself out. Things will fall into place the way that they are supposed to, just so long as you trust yourself and allow yourself to be who you truly are.

Much love,

An older version of you that still has so much left to learn herself.