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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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.