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.

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.

 

Why It’s Okay To Be Disliked

There was a point in my life where I’m not sure that I had a solid personality.

I was what people said I was. If I said one thing and another person disagreed with me, I’d retract my statement to somehow force it to agree with theirs. If someone wanted me to do something that I really didn’t want to, I’d do it anyway, or risk feeling extremely guilty for letting them down. And if another person wanted to say, sleep in the comfortable, cozy bed, then I would be the first person to say that I was totally fine with sleeping on the floor so that they could.

I lived this way for several years, and I told myself that I was right by doing it. I was being selfless and kind. I was sacrificing my comfort for the comfort of others. The way that I saw it, this was the way that you had to live in order to be a moral human being.

Looking back on it now, however, I think that I should reveal what was actually motivating my actions back then: I wanted people to like me. I wanted to be accepted and loved, and the only way that I could think to do that was to let them get whatever they wanted. If I thought that someone wouldn’t like a smart woman, then I was stupid. If I thought that someone wanted me quiet and docile, then I was quiet and docile. It was no big thing. It was just what they wanted.

Right?

Well, in retrospect, no. What I wanted was for people to like me, but what I was actually communicating to them was that they mattered more than I did. They could get whatever they wanted from me and so they took advantage of that, and why wouldn’t they? They had every opportunity to.

And more than that, I was forgetting something very important during all of this: in order for someone to like me, they needed to know me. And that wasn’t going to happen if whoever I was was changing depending on the situation. Sometimes I believed in one thing, sometimes another. Sometimes I liked this, sometimes I liked that. And if someone did manage to pinpoint a specific persona on me, who could say that that person was actually me?

We get so caught up with being liked that sometimes, we forget that it might actually be better to be disliked. And I’m not talking about being disliked by everyone. I’m not talking about being rude or disregarding someone else’s feelings. What I’m talking about is standing up for what you believe in, for what you know to be right, and maybe making some enemies along the way simply because other people don’t agree with you.

And here’s the thing: whatever you believe in, whether it be something political or the mere fact that you deserve to be treated as a person and an equal, there is always going to be someone who disagrees with you. Not everyone, hopefully, but someone. And that’s okay. Not everyone has to agree with you. The most important thing is that you are comfortable with your choice, and that you stood by what you believe.

And, furthermore, the people who make a difference in the world aren’t always the most well-liked people. They make a difference because they say something new and they refuse to back down from it, and that will always be met with some resistance. I know that many of the people who made big differences in my life were not necessarily people that I liked at the time, and that was because they challenged me. They took me out of my comfort zone and forced me to grow – which might not have been what I wanted, but it was what I needed.

That is what the world needs – people that force it to grow. People who don’t care about being liked, but are not cruel in the process. People who are in tune with themselves and their emotions enough to know what they believe in, and who are strong enough to stand by it. And while it might not necessarily be easy to become one of these people, it is worthwhile. Because once you become a person who doesn’t care about being liked first and foremost, then you get to know yourself better. You might even come to like the person who you are. No longer is there all of this clutter about what you should be and what you should believe; you are just you, in all of your messiness and your flaws, and the relationships that you do make will be stronger for it. People will know you then. They might not always agree with you, but they will know you, and that is so much more valuable.

Why Not Love Yourself?

We live in a society that glorifies self-hatred. This is especially true for women, who are constantly bombarded with the message that they are not good enough, but it’s true for men too.

Women are constantly told that they must be physically attractive if they want to have value in our society, and in order to be physically attractive, they must have the breasts of a porn star, the booty of an athlete, and the stomach of a girl who hasn’t eaten in a week. They must have plumped up lips, fake eyelashes, make-up that creates the illusion of looking like they aren’t wearing make-up. They must be sexually available, but not promiscuous. They must be mothers, wives, daughters, students but not perfect students, making money but not so much money that they intimidate the man. They must be hard and soft, all at once. They must be something that is perfectly impossible to be, and if they fail to be it, then they aren’t good enough.

Men, too, are expected to fulfill an ideal, though perhaps not quite to the same extent. Men do not receive the message that they absolutely must be physically attractive if they want to have value, but if they do want to be physically attractive, then they must be tall and muscular, regardless of their body type. Men are expected to do well financially. They’re expected to be successful, ambitious, hard and unemotional, unfaltering, sometimes inhuman.

And somehow, if someone does manage to succeed in fulfilling one of these ideals, they’re expected to act oblivious to the fact that they did. A traditionally attractive woman is still expected to blush at a compliment that she receives and say, “oh no, me? No, I’m not that pretty.” As much as we’re over-saturated with media that tells us what, exactly, we’re supposed to be, we’re also over-saturated with media that tells us that we can’t be proud when and if we accomplish that. The One Direction song What Makes You Beautiful asserts that the thing that makes a woman most beautiful of all is not having this bride of Frankenstein body that we’re expected to have, but rather it’s being unaware of the fact that you have that body. In movies and television, it’s not the girl who knows she’s beautiful who finds love and happiness in the end, but the girl who’s self-conscious about the way she looks in that outfit, the girl who doesn’t think that she deserves happiness specifically because that other girl is so much more beautiful than she is. Self-consciousness is rewarded in our media, and maybe that’s because so many of us are plagued with self-consciousness – and why wouldn’t we be? We’re surrounded by the message that we should be! But at the same time, why can’t we be proud when we do manage to succeed?

I’m not going to lie: I know I’m beautiful. Maybe I’m not traditionally beautiful in every single way (I don’t know if it’s possible to be), but I do think that my face looks nice, and I’m proud of the work that I’ve put into my body at the gym. So if you were to tell me that I look beautiful, I wouldn’t blush and pretend to be unaware. I am aware. I worked damn hard to be beautiful, thank you, and I’m going to reap every benefit from it! And I don’t necessarily think that there’s anything wrong with that. I don’t think that it makes me any uglier to know that.

A person shouldn’t spend their lives constantly reaching for this unattainable definition of what they should be, of course, but when they are successful at something – whether it be reaching a definition of beauty that they’re comfortable with, or achieving something in their career, or proving that they have an impressive intellect, then why can’t they be aware of it? Why can’t they be happy about the fact that they are successful? Why can’t they brag a little bit – they’ve earned the right to, haven’t they?

Well, perhaps the reason is that we as a society are so afraid of hearing someone brag about their success because they worry that, in doing so, they are inherently putting someone else down. And, yes, sometimes when people brag about themselves, they turn it around and make it all about how much better they are than someone else, and that isn’t okay. Comparing yourself to someone else is never okay. It is cruel and belittling to stunt someone else’s personal growth by telling them that you are better than them, and often times, that sort of behaviour doesn’t come from security, but from insecurity, a need to tell yourself that you are better than another person. But so long as that isn’t what you are doing, rather you are merely being proud of your own accomplishments, then why can’t you do that? What’s so wrong with being secure in yourself?

We live in a society that merely seems to be obsessed with low self-esteem, and it makes sense. Perpetuating low self-esteem in women for their appearances convinces women to continue buying products that they hope will make them better match society’s definition of beauty, and perpetuating low self-esteem in a person’s behaviour ensures that they keep acting in a very specific way. And as much as we should never stop trying to improve ourselves, low self-esteem can be very toxic as well. It can lead to depressive thoughts and cruel behaviour, and more than that, we deserve to be proud of our accomplishments. We deserve to feel good in our skin and our abilities. So, really, why can’t we?