As Big As You Are

Women are so amazing.

Have I mentioned that before?

I’ve had a week spent listening to and talking with some truly magnificent women and it’s just been freaking inspiring.

And it’s made me think a bit about how we as women try to make ourselves smaller in so many ways. A woman is really a bold, strong, resilient, love-filled, brilliant, passionate creature with the ability to create and to grow. She’s known pain, joy, love and fear and she soldiers on with her head high and her wisdom shining all around her. And yet, somehow we push all of that down to fit ourselves into that little box marked ‘likeable’.

Seems to me that it’s a thing us women do a real awful lot.

And truly, I don’t believe it’s a woman’s natural state to be a ghost.

I was lucky enough last Friday to hear Julie Tenner (the Pleasure Nutritionist) speak at the MMP Wine Night in Mount Martha. She is really a wonderful storyteller and shared such wisdom in such a beautiful, articulate way. She explained that “What is not made sacred, is made shameful” and that women and girls cannot express their real truth if they’re too busy trying to shut down their feelings and make themselves more palatable to society.

Julie also discussed how society can make us feel that once we become mothers we are often viewed as ‘less than’. Our stretchy scarred bits, our tired eyes, our curves and our hard-work heavy shoulders somehow make us smaller than we once were. Not to mention that motherhood is generally pretty undervalued even though we are literally raising the next generation.

I discussed this idea with some incredible doula/ mum friends of mine on Sunday and we pretty much universally agreed that motherhood has- if anything- really made us all so much more than we were before. Motherhood has made us more intellectually curious, more passionate in life, more open-hearted and more comfortable in our bodies than beforehand. Despite societal pressures, it’s a gift. Women seriously just improve as we get older. Personally I feel that in many ways I am just at the beginning of my journey. But I have to say that right now, I’m not missing my early 20’s at all. Actually I’m really looking forward to kicking off my 30’s next year.

But it makes me wonder about those times when I was younger and so frightened of being too big and loud for those people around me. When I was terrified that I was obnoxious, annoying and worst of all (of course) fat. Although I think I was probably a little more outspoken than some- I was still quaking in my boots that I might be considered any of those things. And I have to say, this week of inspiration and reflection has really given me some flashbacks to those times.

It was probably almost a decade ago now that my now-husband but then-boyfriend and I took one of those little breaks that happen in relationships in your early 20’s. In retrospect, it was pretty inevitable, with us being quite different and all. I wanted to move in together and he wanted to get out and have a bit of fun and the two points of view didn’t really mesh. So we took a break. Needless to say, we kept in pretty close contact over that time despite ourselves. It wasn’t super easy or anything, but thankfully we eventually sorted our shit out.
However, in the interim I had something of a fling with a boy I’d known since school. We’d been good friends for ages and I’d always found him quite fascinating. But over those few months, I became pretty much totally infatuated with him. He was so sweet and funny, not too hard on the eyes and I found conversation with him to be so completely engrossing. And truth be told- even when it all fell in a heap- it did take me quite a long time to get over him.

He was always pretty forthcoming with me about the fact that he didn’t want a proper relationship despite that in many ways (for all intents and purposes) we were already in one. And in the style of so many, many young women before me- I lied and said I was totally easy-breezy and so fine with that. He seemed to like me for my apparent brutal honesty in areas which were of interest to him so I even a little bit convinced myself that I was cool with the situation. I won’t break it down into intimate detail but there were lots of ways that I really painted myself as a more agreeable version of me over that time. If he said jump, I was already pulling out the trampoline. I was so young and I just liked him so much, I ignored how uncomfortable I was with making myself smaller. In fact, although as a teenager I had become very good at miniaturising myself, it was while I was spending time with this boy that I pretty much reached my pinnacle of littleness. Whittling my real self down to the stage where I was barely noticeable against the backdrop of what he wanted from me. I doubt he realised this, but it was still quite hard to come back from.

A couple of years ago I caught up with him online. Although on some level I was pretty excited by this prospect since I’d truly missed his friendship over the years- it was basically horrible. The pressure to once again make myself a certain way in his eyes was palpable. I could hardly believe it. Despite being older and wiser and even without the potential for any sort of romantic attachment, I really felt I should go back to being small. Back to painting myself as sweet and compliant and responsive to what he wanted me to be. But that’s just not who I was (am) anymore. So we left it awkward- him washing his hands of me, and me pissed off and humiliated by the whole damn thing.

The thing is- as I’ve been reflecting on those events- it got me thinking- I’m really not comfortable making myself smaller than I am. It’s been such a huge part of the societal pressure in my life as a female and I freaking hate it. I’m pretty damn sure there’d be women reading this right now who totally identify with the idea that you must be a ‘good girl’. Or a ‘pretty girl’. Or quiet, easy-going and charming. To squeeze who you are into that tiny little mould or otherwise to self-administer the title of crazy bitch.

It occurred to me that as a mother of two girls, I really don’t want them to have to suffer through the idea that they have to reject their natural state. Whatever that may be. I’d hate to think that this next generation will grow into adolescence with that continuing notion that the best a girl could hope for is that she is skinny or pretty or likeable. And I really hope that if my children should ever encounter a strong infatuation like I did, they won’t have to even consider shrinking right down to fit that person’s expectations. Especially in this age of social media, dick-pics and porn posing as sexual education, I actually feel like that could be so, so dangerous for kids in general.

While I personally don’t have any regrets- since my path has brought me to this truly happy place where I am now in life- I do wonder what things might have been like if I’d had a bit of this wisdom earlier on. Like my girls hopefully will.

“They do what we do, not what we say” was one of the most amazing points Julie made. If you want your children to love and respect themselves, you really need to make sure that you love and respect yourself too. And that they clearly see that.

That’s what I plan to do.

And I hope the women reading this will feel as inspired as I was and will give it a go too.

We might not be able to fix the whole of society for them. Or pre-empt the nature of their future relationships. But we can work to pass on the confidence and wisdom we’ve gained in adulthood and motherhood to our daughters and sons. We can be the biggest version of ourselves that we care to be. We can get our opinions out there, not worry that we talk too loud or too long and we can wear whatever the fuck we want. Because we are worthy. We are worth looking at and worth listening to.

And so are our kids.

 

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