10 Years On from Riot!: A Birthday

MI0000692586

I always used music to travel. I’d trawl forums for albums which, a dodgy download later, would transport me a continent across the world and to lives alien to my own. Growing up in the sweet spot between Edinburgh, West Lothian and Fife, it didn’t take much to feel gloriously consumed by things bigger than me. I never felt trapped by the confines of my small town because I was spending my formative years getting to know what was beyond, content knowing that there was plenty out there waiting for me.

So while I was a silent spectator, it was Paramore who signalled back. As an insecure preteen, it felt like going from being the seer to being the seen. I wasn’t eavesdropping on conversations any more but being reached out to and invited to the dialogue.

I remember quite vividly buying Riot! on CD (round, shiny, plays music without eating up your data). I was at the top end of twelve, maybe just thirteen, on a Saturday afternoon trip into town with friends. One of my first without parental supervision. I had birthday money to spend and, like we did back then, headed straight to HMV.

What I don’t remember is getting to know it, identifying favourite tracks early on, growing accustomed to the lulls and rises of it between pressing play over and over again. I, quite honestly, don’t remember much of myself before that album. Music is a great way of characterising chapters in life but I struggle to remember Riot! just not being there. Sometimes you’ll meet people who, when you cross paths, it’s like they walked in and switched the light on. Very quickly you forget that moments ago you were sitting alone in a dark room, and that you were ever unaware of their impending arrival. There aren’t many albums I’d apply that experience to, but Riot! is one of them.

While All We Know Is Falling lamented betrayals it didn’t understand, Riot! had found its fight. It pointed the finger with more righteousness but really earmarked a visceral kind of introspection that’s now so characteristic of Paramore. Hayley always gave herself a hard time lyrically, and gave herself a hard time for giving herself a hard time – a teen just like the rest of us, she was navigating the waters of self worth at an age when we don’t really have the means.

It’s a lesson I’m still learning today, and one in a series to which I didn’t really connect until Hayley wrote them. She demonstrated that the best of us can struggle to keep our heads above water during periods of figuring-ourselves-out, but that we can find peace in it too – that we don’t need to make it to the other side before we can see value in ourselves.

To be a young girl knee deep in a genre so saturated with men, men’s takes and men’s talents and men’s power, having Paramore in my emotional arsenal was a game changer. That Hayley became an icon for girls and women is no breaking news, and she’s already up there with the Gwen Stefanis and Shirley Mansons and Joan Jetts.

She isn’t the Patti Smith of my generation, though. She’s the Hayley Williams of my generation. Right place, right time, right message. The fact that thousands of us feel so similarly shaped by having the privilege of growing up alongside her is, on one hand, a sad indictment of the genres we grew up on and the gender imbalance of platforms held. But god, it has been a privilege.

I was young, still developing my world view and my view of myself, and I heard Hayley feeling things like I did. I also saw her as an incredible, creative, stomping and unapologetic force. That she didn’t shy away from vulnerability, championed the weird and cultivated self expression as no less than a moral stance completely set me up for adolescence.

Riot!, now, represents painful adolescent experiences that I wish I could live all over again. It’s not my favourite of theirs – if they’d stagnated over the past decade I likely wouldn’t be writing this – but it was a vehicle for my own development like no other Paramore record. You don’t realise, at that point in your life, that you’re feeling things in the most raw and earnest way you ever will.

I’m ten years older now, hopefully ten years wiser. I still turn to Paramore in the knowledge that they’ll hold a mirror up to me until I’ve had a chance to put myself back together. Next week I’ll be spending my twenty third birthday at one of their shows with my best friend, a girl who accompanied me to HMV and spent the subsequent years by my side listening to Riot!, traversing our emotional common ground. I expect those on stage will strike me as old friends, too.

 

 

Advertisements

International Women’s Day 2017 – A Soundtrack

As each IWD comes to pass, I find myself more enamoured with the women in my life – friends, family, and acquaintances I admire from afar. They’re as reliable a support network as I could ever dream of having and my primary day to day inspiration. From friends who use their talents to promote the causes we share a passion for, to a mother who became my best friend in adulthood, my early 20s are proving to be happily woman-centric.

We are resilient, warm, and unapologetic (or working on it, if you’re me). We listen and we strive to cultivate an intersectional approach to not just our feminism but our lives – because really, they’re one and the same. We’re often too humble, admonishing our own instinctive lean towards modesty, but we are always learning to recognise our shortcomings and blind spots. To be emotional, and let that define us if we like, but also realise that it’s optional. We notice that as women we carry an innate hesitance to just say without disclaimer, to be perceived attaching authority to our opinions, and so we are driven to make a living from doing just that. Our arts and our sciences are essential, but they are not as effective a tool as our day to day solidarity.

***

I was raised by a woman, but I was also raised by music. My dad was very musical, and I’m sure I absorbed some of that, but it played a smaller role in my mum’s life. This meant that after his passing, while my mum had her favourites (The Monkees, Meatloaf, and Al Green off the top of my head) I was in the musical driver’s seat. From a very young age I sought out the sounds and thoughts of those worlds away from me, feasting on any genre I had access to. In terms of what I liked, the requirements were about as loose as they are now: whether it was a beat that facilitated the many hours I would spend self-choreographing round the living room (this also hasn’t changed), lyrics that made sense of my confused preteen feelings, or opinions that I had never been exposed to, I wanted it all.

And so, while I attempt to carve out a place for myself as a writer, the most precious form of expression to me will always be music. I’m competent in a couple of instruments, but I’ve never had the guts to put my words to them, so my respect for those who do – and who do so successfully – is boundless. It’s a privilege to be able to indulge in the arts but some genres were also borne out of necessity, an avenue for minorities and working class people to escape the confines of poverty and oppression, giving a voice to the experiences of themselves and others like them.

That’s why it seems fitting to recognise International Women’s Day with a compilation of my favourite tracks celebrating womanhood. Some I have loved my whole life, while some are more recent discoveries. Some are widely respected and critically acclaimed, while the inclusion of others could almost certainly be effectively torn apart in longform by VICE. No matter, because the flavours of womanhood are limitless.

Please do let me know if you have any tracks to add, for I’m always on the look out.

Queen Latifah – U.N.I.T.Y.

 

Starting off with a classic. Queen Latifah defiantly touches on misogyny, cat calling, domestic violence and her experiences as a black woman at the hands of men in her community.

 

Bikini Kill – Rebel Girl

 

No feminist music collection can be complete without recognising the riot grrrl movement, particularly if you grew up on punk rock. ‘When she talks, I hear the revolution/In her hips, there’s revolutions/When she walks, the revolution’s coming/In her kiss, I taste the revolution.’

 

 

Christina Aguilera – Can’t Hold Us Down

 

This was, if my memory serves me, the very first song to put feminism on my radar. I adored Christina and remember using pocket money to buy a copy of Stripped, which I kept on rotation in our living room stereo for years. At such a young age I couldn’t fully comprehend the microaggressions being referred to on this track, on-the-nose as it is, but the overall message is one that stuck with me. ‘So what am I not supposed to have an opinion?/Should I be quiet just because I’m a woman?/Call me a bitch ’cause I speak what’s on my mind/Guess it’s easier for you to swallow if I sat and smiled.’

 

 

Against Me! – Transgender Dysphoria Blues

 

From one of the most important punk rock albums of our time. Laura Jane Grace’s coming out as a trans woman didn’t transform the scene which likes to think of itself as more progressive than it is, but hell did she have an impact. As well as being a bloody great band, Laura’s activism for trans and feminist causes means that Against Me! is more punk than you could ever dream of being. Should be required listening for anyone claiming to be intersectional. ‘You’ve got no cunt in your strut/You’ve got no hips to shake/And you know it’s obvious/But we can’t choose how we’re made/.’

 

Jhené Aiko – Spotless Mind

 

I’m a huge fan of Jhené, and this track really speaks to me in terms of self acceptance and emotional growth. Combined with the video, it reassures me that as a woman I have the right to be whoever I want to be, in as many different ways as I like and in as many different ways as I can’t yet predict. ‘Shame on me for changing? Shame on you for staying the same.’

 

Kimya Dawson – I Like Giants

 

A voice and style immediately recognisable to those of us who went through a Moldy Peaches phase – or saw a few minutes of Juno – this is a typically lovely track about perspective and self worth. A reassuring rub on the shoulder in sonic form. ‘I like giants, especially girl giants/’Cause all girls feel too big sometimes, regardless of their size.’

 

 

Beyoncé – ***Flawless

 

Well obviously. With feminism woven into all of her output these days, I could really pick any Yoncé track from the last two albums – but this is certainly the most blatant, with an excerpt monologue from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in case you didn’t get the message the first thousand times. It’s Bey’s world and we’re living in it. (This is also why she won’t appear on the playlist I put together alongside this post – if it’s Tidal or bust, I’m out.)

 

Paramore – Ain’t It Fun

 

This track’s message might not be overtly feminist (check out Anklebiters which definitely fits the bill), but of this list it’s probably closest to my heart for how it continues to help me embrace emotional resilience. Its dry-witted musings never grow stale or irrelevant, and I dare say that my generation (specifically girls of the alt-music persuasion) would be very different had we not grown up in Hayley’s shadow, despite her missteps along the way. It’s unfortunate that she stands relatively alone as a woman of her level of success in the genre, but she is phenomenal. ‘Ain’t it fun living in the real world? Ain’t it good being all alone?’

 

 

Salt-N-Pepa – None of Your Business

 

Another early ’90s classic, this track calls out the double standards of perceived promiscuity before ‘slut shaming’ appeared in a single think piece. It even features a message of support for sex workers, even if lacking in nuance. ‘If I want to take a guy home with me tonight, it’s none of your business/And if she wants to be a freak and sell it on the weekend, it’s none of your business.’

 

Sleater-Kinney – #1 Must Have

 

Another band to grow out of the riot grrrl movement, this track sees Sleater-Kinney decry the watering down of feminism in the name of capitalism and marketing – a grievance which is no less relevant today, nearly two decades after its release. ‘And I think that I sometimes might have wished/For something more than to be a size six/But now my inspiration rests/In-between my beauty magazines and my credit card bills.’

 

Lauryn Hill – Doo-Wop (That Thing)

 

A treasure of hip hop and neo-soul, it seems apt to end with Lauryn Hill and this anthem for female confidence. Detailing the difficulties of relationships and the additional burdens carried by women, Hill insists: ‘Don’t be a hard rock when you really are a gem, baby girl.’

 

 

“Rallying My Wits, and Recollecting My Principles”


Isn’t it infuriating? Wide-eyed calls to arms to ‘fight negativity with love’, all unsettlingly shiny teeth and flower crowns just out of sight. Just be positive – your struggle will make you who you are so that one day you, too, can stand here patronising people while exuding the air of someone who has never so much as stubbed their toe in the dark. Revolutionary wisdom about happiness being a choice, cross-stitched and hung on a faded magnolia wall. It’s only inspirational if you have fought your way into that headspace already, and otherwise it can be nauseating.
And so, I would like to apologise in advance.

We’re nearing the end of 2016, a year in which – if you ask the internet, anyway – so many blows were cast to us as a society that I doubt many would object to foregoing the month of December in favour of getting the whole thing over with. At a more personal level, it would appear that few of us are having any easier a time. Those genuinely happy people, to whom we would look with a blend of admiration and bitter envy, are dwindling in their numbers. (I can’d admit to having gathered statistics on this one, but I see your nihilist status updates. And anyway, the ‘post-truth’ phenomenon has to be of use to more than the Daily Mail.)

Beyond graduation and making a handful of wonderful new friends, I have been experiencing a time which I shall conservatively denote as less-than-ideal. Much of what I’ve been struggling with myself is unremarkable and felt widely among my age group, and not actually what I have in mind when writing this.

I am unhappy about, though certain that, what I will remember most vividly from this year is hurt. There’s no shame in admitting this – anyone with a modicum of emotional intelligence will know that relationships, friendships, our interactions with other people, play a hugely significant role in what it is to be a person and live a life. Vulnerability is something to embrace out of principle, for it’s the only way to achieve fulfilment. It does, of course, also open you up to quite a bit of potential emotional distress. I stand by that as a risk worth taking.

However, I have felt that I’ve filled my quota for externally-inflicted-hurt several times over this year. Woe is me, I know, but I’ve been aware of upset as a fact of life since I was a young teen with too many Fall Out Boy shirts. 2016 took those shirts, used them to tie my wrists to a post, and screamed my insecurities at me until I believed that I would be a fool to ever trust my place in someone’s life again. The gradual growing apart of friends, the natural streamlining of social circles, is something I have made and can make peace with. What I have felt this year is the undignified, cold, sometimes callous loss of several of those most special to me, sometimes with less than a month in between for me to catch my breath, and it really knocked me for six.

I’ll never claim to be without my flaws (have you read any of my blogs?) but these were situations in which I did my very best to exhibit integrity, honesty, and a complete commitment to mending things with each person, all of whom I cared for deeply. So I, of suffering self esteem and a defence mechanism crafted out of humility, know that I deserved better treatment. More warmth, even if said relationships had very suddenly become beyond saving.

None of that helped or is helping me deal with it.

Please know, dear readers, that if you are a deeply-feeling, emotionally switched on person, finding yourself bizarrely unaffected by something which previously would have upset you to your core is not a sign of maturity. That feeling of concrete in your veins is not strength, it is avoidance and full-body determination to procrastinate on something overwhelming. Instead of consuming the pain like water to be processed, you’re standing with your nose pressed against it like a thin wooden sheet. It will be more stubborn than you and it will not go away. It will have you, months down the line, overcome by silent tears as you sell a middle-aged man a John Cena shirt, and not because of his poor pro-wrestling alliances.

What I did feel was a desire to turn my back on my life-long preoccupation with doing the right thing. It was a pouted and petulant feeling of ‘over and over again doing my very best means nothing, so why bother?’. It was reactionary and more self-indulgent than this piece of writing. Had I committed to that, it would have destroyed my self esteem and sense of identity, both of which are more important than ever when struggling with feelings of betrayal, abandonment and being taken for granted.

Which brings us to now. I have taken the bold decision to continue choosing not to be a dick.

It’s inevitable that losing people you love, as dictated by them, will leave you questioning everything you thought you knew about that relationship. Your dynamic. Its authenticity. Their authenticity. And the only way I can discern to be a safety net for this is to amp up the one thing you know for sure: yourself.

Since I decided to be as me as I possibly can be, to take the faith I would normally place in others and invest it into myself instead, I have felt lighter. I still want to act out in retaliation at the injustice of it all, but it is just as satisfying to do so by loving the shit out of everyone. It’s not quite radiating positivity with a middle finger behind my back, because it’s more genuine than that and it’s not a ‘for now’. It’s painful to reach the stage of feeling so much hurt that you feel more determined than ever not to contribute to that kind of energy if you can possibly help it, but if you can harness it and let it spur you on then it will heal you. (I’m sorry. I’ll take my flower crown now.)

I have often been accused of being too soft, both within myself and towards others. But in being as patient, as honest, as accepting, and as warm as is within my power, it’s for me just as much as it is anyone else. Don’t be fooled into taking this as some declaration of selflessness. I feel better about myself when I embody these things, I feel stronger, and I sleep better at night. I don’t need to be more ruthless with the people around me, as I’ve regularly been told.

No matter how we conduct ourselves, we’ll never be able to control the behaviour of others. That realisation can feel both troublesome and empowering. Your only duty is to be happy with the person you choose to be, and ensure you’ll never look back wishing you’d done more.

The Romance of Living Alone

zmnjzjuyntu2zsmvd0fcqjbka1nrodc2bhrfd1cxmhnjtzzcyulnps80n3gxndoxmtuzedyxmi85mdb4ndg3l2zpbhrlcnm6cxvhbgl0esg3mckvahr0cdovl3mzlmftyxpvbmf3cy5jb20vcg9sawn5bwljlwltywdlcy9smzztdxzzdhowagdtnw1kam5qcwtsd2th

A few months ago I came across these illustrations by Idalia Candelas which are part of a series called Postmodern Loneliness. I immediately saw myself in them, and recognised a way of living that isn’t much spoken about among my demographic in particular.

I have lived in my current flat for four years, the past two of which have seen me as the sole dweller. I shared the place with a boyfriend for the first couple, and I in no way intend to downplay the value of romantic cohabitation – the comfort and support found in living with your best friend and partner is very special indeed, a cosy chapter of life which I’m currently watching my friends begin armed with their own rosy cheeks and twinkling eyes. But the removal of that comfort, or of not having it to begin with, is a real trigger for growth which I had never stopped to consider.

When I looked through the drawings, nothing I saw said ‘lonely’ to me. ‘Alone’, sure (coincidentally the title of the book in which the series appears), but Candelas said herself that she likes “to show women who exist in solitude but do not suffer … They are not depressed or crying. Rather [they] are safe, exalting in the sense of enjoying the company of just herself.” Living individually, the distinction becomes an unavoidable reality. Loneliness rears its head, but to be alone is something which I’ve come to feel is worth celebrating.

Perhaps it’s a lifestyle which suits me personally, both because of my upbringing – I grew up in a single parent household with no siblings – and because I sometimes feel that I spend so much time in an intensely introspective haze that the air around me is dense with thought. I need the space, ambitions and stale anxieties hanging thick near the ceiling.

But living alone also gave me the opportunity to build a kingdom, an extension of myself, from scratch. You are forced to really get to know yourself to an extent which you can barely imagine when there are other people in your space. When these rooms became permanently empty bar myself (and my cat, not to play to stereotypes here) I was scared and I was sad. I was convinced that living alone at 20 was pathetic, surely the sign of a loner, and a guarantee that I would be missing out on experiences surrounding friendship and sisterhood that my friends with flatmates would enjoy.

I was wrong. So wonderfully wrong. Living alone proved conducive to what I can only describe as personal evolution, producing an end product with more confidence, higher self esteem, and a sharper mind, all borne out of a deep understanding of myself. The result of so much time spent with myself and enjoying my own company.

I always had a decent social life, regardless of habitation or relationship status, but it has never been better than over the past two years (the final years of my degree, too, which probably should have been spent with academic journals rather than copious bottles of Sainsburys’ finest “house red”). Fears I had of missing out were mostly unfounded, and having the space to develop as clear a mind as possible allowed me to strengthen my friendships and cultivate a growing social circle. It’s these friendships which enrich my life during the day, and keep me warm when I return to my empty flat at night. Alone, but surrounded by love and support – it may not be in the next room, but I know it’s there.

And anyway, I have myself in this room.

There are times when it gets lonely, and you long for some minimal-performance company which would be made just a little too much of an organised social event even by the action of texting a friend an invite to come and hang out in pyjamas. It can be a little too easy to go days without crossing paths with another human being, causing withdrawal, resulting in self-imposed isolation, and so the cycle continues. You might spend a few days in bed with the flu before finding yourself looking up rooms for rent because you’re just so desperate to live with someone who might be kind enough to run to a shop when you’ve necked the last of the paracetamol (ahem).

It passes, though, and it’s certainly character building. You might have a rough night spent staring out the window at neighbouring buildings utterly convinced that there is not a soul within a five mile radius, but 24 hours later you’ll be bopping around your kitchen, cooking and listening to music and feeling so glad that you don’t have to share this environment with anyone. And if there’s one thing the illustrations get right, it’s that you will almost always be going around in just your knickers. (We make exceptions for guests, but only the special ones – this is our kingdom and you’ll abide by our customs, thank you).

Having the opportunity to unpack yourself day after day, freeing yourself of the performance required by everything beyond the threshold, creates something almost tangible. You quickly realise that romance involving another person is only one facet of it – some of my most romantic memories have involved dancing through my living room to music (which is always playing here, and which has to be chosen according to only my own interests), late night writing, and sitting on my balcony at 5am as the summer sun rises after a night out. Me, content, wine stained lips, enjoying a warm breeze, perfectly alone.

I feel everything I’ve discovered about myself over the past two years growing like invisible branches from my mind, round corners and under doorways, the tips reaching the walls of every room. I wake up and it’s there. I go out and I sense it as I close the door behind me. People visit and I wonder if they feel the extra effort required in moving through the atmosphere of my one-bedroom flat.

I look forward to sharing a space with someone again one day and I welcome the learning curve that it’ll bring too. But for now, I’ll continue to be my own crutch. I really believe there’s no greater power a woman can have than to know herself completely. Living alone is a hell of an effective way to get there, and it’s magic.
Now playing: Best Coast – Fear of My Identity

Transparency Is Underrated: An Introspective Look

“We’re more connected than ever, and yet we’ve never been so alone.” Blah blah blah. Insert comic strip depicting a millennial with posture ruined by the gravitational pull of an iPhone, as appropriate. Maybe a coffee shop chalkboard informing customers that there is no wifi and that they’ve to talk to each other. With their faces.

This line of thinking is, obviously, entirely inane and a discussion better suited to a think piece in 2014. But it might be a tired, flimsy springboard from which we can reach new branches of thought. The digital world may not be as destructive as the Daily Mail would have you believe, but it could shine a light on the parts of us which are unchangingly fleshy and human.

If what the anti-smartphone community says is true, with today’s society obsessing over Tweeters and Grimstagrams, surely the way we talk to each other should have become somewhat standardised. And yet that’s not at all the case. Our interpersonal communications are just as messy, unskilled, and unpredictable as ever – it just might happen over an instant message or a text, and someone evidently dragged here from the underworld decided to introduce read receipts as an emotionally distressing bonus. But while we can get in touch with anyone we like in a matter of seconds, communication emerges as a very much separate practice.

Communication involves a lot of time spent explaining things in painstaking detail, watching helplessly as it goes right over the head of the recipient, and reacting one of two ways – becoming frustrated with their complete refusal to engage with you, or understanding that even the most similar of people can have communication styles which are worlds apart. Those styles might need a lot of work and understanding to fit together effectively, or they may just be entirely incompatible. Technology hasn’t changed this.

And just as I am someone who interacts with others on social media daily, I am also a woman obsessed with transparency. I crave authenticity in my relationships, and become positively giddy when I get to know someone who will instinctively lay everything out on the table without being pressured to do so. As a fairly intuitive person with a sometimes debilitating habit of reading between the lines, I feel refreshed when communication is as straightforward as possible.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not someone for whom all social conventions and manners go out the window in favour of ‘just being real’. There are people who champion honesty to prop up their own obnoxiousness and wear their bluntness like a medal. I am a slave to Grice’s Cooperative Principle (shout out to that linguistics degree, currently gathering dust), and hopefully a nice enough person. But I have a preoccupation with productivity, in terms of my relationships more than anything else, and dancing around a point or allowing things to go unsaid causes me to spiral into a self doubting rut.

I’m loyal – unwisely so at times – and it takes a hell of a lot for me to completely shut down on a person, but lying is one way to have me remove myself from you entirely. Truth, authenticity, communicative efficiency, all my favourite things. But I often wonder why, if I was always this way inclined, or if it’s something I grew into. After a few years of compulsive introspection, I have concluded it to be a result of two things: experience and anxiety.

The former is rather self explanatory. Extensive experience in getting less than the truth, and fighting it hard, meant that moving forward complete transparency was a priority of mine. Knowing people who don’t communicate the way we need them to can sometimes be the most informative, most beneficial-to-personal-development way to see your blood pressure reach dangerous levels. When we learn about others, we in turn learn about ourselves.

The latter is something which drives everything I do. I cannot leave something left unsaid or unquestioned, as it will very quickly become an echo bouncing around the caverns of my skull. Sensing that someone isn’t being entirely upfront with me on something significant can result in a loss of appetite. Shrugging something off, pledging to worry about it at a later date when I’m more at liberty to do something about it, is not a privilege my brain chemistry allows me. This is where I feel like something of a contradiction (testimonals include “an open book” and “very guarded, difficult to get to know”). Sure, I’m going to be anxious about this one situation, but my anxiety will also make me hyper aware of everything I do and thus unable to broach the subject for fear of appearing, y’know, not chill.

I am also completely averse to conflict. It generally terrifies me. There are maybe a couple of people who I can call out comfortably, without feeling that uncomfortable layer of awkwardness descend upon me, but self doubt and a desire for harmony will almost always win out.

It is as a result of this need for transparency that I tend to weave my own vulnerability into more interactions than I probably need to. I’m far less likely to hold my cards to my chest in an act of self preservation, instead laying them out for the other person and hoping they don’t take advantage. Wanting everyone to be on the same page means a lot of unnecessary sacrifice on my part – but, in that moment, I will feel a weight lifted off me and if it backfires later on, I’ll view it as a reflection on the other person’s character rather than my own. I’m still working on locating that middle ground, because hey – communication is messy. We can all do better.

Mostly, I value time. The people around us, and the time we have to curate these relationships, is too limited to waste treating conversation like a game – whether face to face or while miles apart. We have language and we have complicated, fluctuating, enriching, carefully crafted relationships with each other. Both are brilliant, and it will always be my priority to use one to benefit the other.

My Body, Myself, and You

Let me start out by noting that this is in no way an attempt to put myself down, or cry ‘woe is me’ in search of compliments. Self deprecation is a defence mechanism I’ve perfected over the years, but something I’m trying to cut back on as I get older. This, on the other hand, is more like an elephant in the room that I feel particularly uncomfortable acknowledging. But it affects everything I do, every interaction I have, and so I probably should.

Echoing the experiences of almost every woman I know, my body and I have never been on great terms. I learned very young that my appearance was very important, and it took nearly a decade for me to begin to deconstruct that line of thinking. Sadly, its deconstruction didn’t lessen the effect, and really only produced a kind of inner conflict – my appearance doesn’t define me, yeah, to hell with your beauty standards, I have plenty to offer so it shouldn’t matter how long I had to do my hair this morning. Except that it still will matter, no matter how silly I know that to be.

I am so very hesitant to claim a divide between myself and other women, particularly regarding our shared experience of womanhood and how generally privileged I am in that respect. But being surrounded by countless beautiful women, so strong, charming and fantastic as they are, highlights that when it comes to a lot of things – ‘body positivity’ and beyond – we’re coming at it from very different places.

An overwhelming majority of my friends are conventionally very attractive women. They’re a compassionate, understanding bunch who would scold me the second I even hinted at the possibility that I’m maybe, potentially, not quite as hot as Beyonce. They couldn’t be more supportive and so it’s no fault of theirs that they don’t understand, or maybe even think about, how different certain situations are for us.

We’re all well aware that as women, our appearances carry a lot more weight (and thus our personalities carry less) than if we weren’t. We can never escape being looked at before we are listened to, and that’s a truth I wouldn’t dream of denying to any woman. But as someone who doesn’t really reach that bar of ‘conventionally attractive’, I’ve grown accustomed to feeling a few steps behind them at all times.

I constantly feel that I have something to prove. I feel that I must be so funny, so insightful, so understanding, so confident that people forget what I look like – as if with every witty remark, another piece of this cursed outer shell which I can’t detach myself from falls away to reveal more of who I am. Most of the time I have to try twice as hard as my gorgeous sisters to convince someone to find me interesting (and I’m generally someone you need to know for a little while before I’m confident enough to really be myself, so this is especially frustrating). As I search for a post-uni job, I’m more often overcome by visions of walking into an interview and being written off before I even sit down than I am by worries that I’m not competent (I’m backed by the statistics here, too).

In social situations, I often feel I have to fight to avoid periods of time spent not really being talked to by anyone, while people flock to my attractive friends (and I’m not talking romantically here. That is a whole ‘nother ballgame). This is a bit of a catch-22, of course, as being so uncomfortable in the body I inhabit impedes my confidence chronically, so I sometimes struggle to put myself out there in the first place. And if I let my dry sense of humour show too much, I know that I’m more likely to be viewed as, well, just a bit of a sarcastic cow rather than feisty or forward in a *hot* way.

Women all have a hyper-awareness of the physical space they exist in, but that’s heightened if you’re not attractive. The thing is: with the way our society functions, being conventionally attractive gives you a clean slate. If you’re funny, you’re funny, you’re not ugly but funny. You can walk into a room of strangers and know that they’re unlikely to have compartmentalised you in their minds before you even introduce yourself. It’s only human to judge others, absolutely, but if you’re not attractive you’re far less likely to even have the privilege of being judged as a whole person.

I worry that to someone who can’t empathise, this may seem melodramatic, so I feel it worth pointing out that despite the pages and pages of detail I could go into – this dimension of my identity has become something so omnipresent that I often go periods of time without noticing it. I don’t live a sexless, isolated life sitting in a corner and wishing someone would notice me. I still believe I’m of value, I still know I have a lot to contribute to the lives intertwined with my own, and I actually like myself more than ever. But in all the cool things I’m able to spend my days doing, I can’t help but feel I’m viewed as inherently lesser than attractive women.

There’s a lot of self-doubt involved, sure, but this has become less an insecurity and more a bitter acceptance of where I stand. I can acknowledge it or I can be in denial, but this will be the reality of myself and many others no matter what I think of it. Some days I have the energy to propel myself forward those few steps, but some days I don’t.

I’m of the opinion that there’s an inherent shame attached to less attractive women asserting that they’re as valuable as any other, and that’s something I’m not immune to, so even publishing this leaves me feeling a bit exposed. I could easily natter away about mental health, my childhood, anything else so personal without much worry, yet voicing that I feel I’m sometimes treated as ‘unattractive woman’ rather than ‘woman I know nothing about’ (or even ‘Hannah’) makes me very uncomfortable.

It ties back in with my avoidance of self deprecation, too. If someone is going to think about your flaws, they’re going to do so regardless, and you pointing your own flaws out for them won’t do you many favours. I don’t want someone with only a half-formed opinion of me to think of only my appearance from now on, because I placed such a spotlight on it in this instance. And I wouldn’t want a potential suitor to read this (James McAvoy, if you’re out there…) and write me off because I sit here and explain to them in detail why I am an unattractive prospect. Like I mentioned previously: it is so difficult for women to transcend their appearance, and even writing about mine feels like risking erasing myself for good.

This is, perhaps, why writing about it feels so necessary, and why writing is so important to me in general – this way, I can only be measured by syntax and font.