A friend's dick-ish boss once announced to her office that there is a fine line between confidence and arrogance. His yelled out instruction to his assembled employees?: 'Walk! That! Line!'. Doesn't that sound like such a guy thing to say?
Ladies, gurls, sisters; I have a manifesto. Let's ignore the arrogance part, but can we breathe in that self-secure, entitled, hitherto macho confidence? In place of the arrogance, can we encourage ourselves to be kind to ourselves and others? Can we force the voice in our head that criticises our bodies, our capabilities, our personalities to shut the fuck up?
Women feeling shit about themselves is just another cog in the machinery of patriarchy, and as we rightfully demand equality, we really need to stop wasting our energy on feeling like we aren't pretty enough, thin enough, fit enough, attractive enough, smart enough. We are all, without exception, enough of everything.
Ok, maybe manifesto is the wrong word. I don't have the answers. The most I can offer is a signpost. I can tell you about me. I do not suffer from self doubt.
I wish I could trace back what happened in my head in my early 20s. I can't honestly say when I realised that I loved my body. Not that it's “perfect” (as if such a thing even existed), and I can crack jokes all day about my flat as a pancake ass and wonky teeth. But I honestly love the rest. Hell, I even love my sad sack butt. I don't know where this 'OMG my body is great' revelation came from, though I wish I could bottle this shit and pass it out.
To me, feeling happy in my body was the first component of feeling capable of achieving my dreams. Ditching an academic university course to train as a designer, moving to a new country alone to find a job, learn a language and build a career in a competitive industry, all felt possible because my sense of self was rock solid. Loving my body turned into loving myself, being my own cheerleader, believing myself able to do whatever I put my mind to. I can't even tell you what power this gives me, that I don't need approval or validation from anyone.
I wasn't always this way. Teenage years are tough for most of us. Either you grow weird – in my case a painful couple of inches a year, with a nose that overtook my face for a while there. Or you have acne, or greasy hair, or some other affliction. Maybe something as ridiculous as a body type that isn't currently in fashion. The girls around you all seem so pretty, you feel gross. But the shyness you feel about your body in the locker room at school – pretty understandable since you are only just getting used to the new hair and boobs and all – can so easily turn into a shame that never lifts. Be vigilant, don't allow that shame to settle.
Young women can be really hard on each other. We are all trying to figure out who we are, and we can damage each other without even realising it. I know from when I was a teenager, a truly scrawny teenager, how insidious a casual comment can be. It went like this:
My best friend (competitive, a tinge of jealousy); 'You have massive hips'.
Back home I start looking at my hips. I really examine my reflection. She's right, the hips are huge. Every time I look in the mirror they look larger, the more I look, the more hideous I appear. That year I spend a summer flirting with anorexia, enjoying the control over my body that I only need precisely one bagel, one orange and a packet of cigarettes to get through the day. I'm not consciously trying to shrink away my hated hips, but I do get pleasure from punishing my body. It makes me feel sad, it deserves to suffer.
One day, I buy a cardigan which is cropped and boxy, I look again in my mirror. Suddenly the silhouette I am used to seeing is switched up. The bulk of the cardigan makes my hips look strangely narrow. The spell is broken. I could never think of myself in the same way again. And in that wake-up moment, I learnt about the weird and scary tricks our eyes play on us, how we can convince ourselves of pretty much anything when it comes to our appearance. Body dysmorphia doesn't just affect dangerously thin anorexic girls, who see imaginary rolls of fat reflected back at them. In my head, my hips looked like something from a fairground hall of mirrors, when in reality, after a summer of eating almost nothing, I looked scarily skeletal.
But if we can convince ourselves that we are ugly, fat, or grotesque so easily, why can't it work the other way around? Can we look in the mirror and convince ourselves to feel beautiful, confident and ready to take on the world?
No answers, then. But some ideas:
You never want to be the girl who says the critical thing that someone else carries with them. I'm talking the snide little sneer, the backhanded compliment ('wow, you don't look fat at all in that!'), the off-hand comment that you know will sting. This stuff usually comes out when you're feeling bad about yourself, though it will in no way help your self love cause. Actually, if you harm someone else's self esteem you should feel properly ashamed. I know that I paid back my teenage best friend's massive hip comment with some other slight, and that makes me feel bad even now.
Seek out gurls who will cheerlead you, and who you can cheerlead. As much as women can fuck each other up, we can also be the strength that supports you, the positive voices that help you feel strength in yourself. Finding loving and supportive friendships is the best thing you can do to improve your self esteem and quality of life. Those girls who make you feel bad about yourself, they need to go.
- Comparing yourself to others is a fast way to feel like crap. Social media will destroy your self esteem if you let it.
- Try, (and ok, this is going to sound like a self help book, but consider giving it a go) to look in the mirror and see beauty. Imagine your body is someone else's, and think how you would see her if she were your friend. Don't concentrate on looking at what you consider your less than perfect parts, try and regard your body with love and admiration. Use those weird mind tricks to see good things.
I'm in my thirties now, and one thing that women my age and older tend to agree on is that they spent way too much of their earlier lives feeling inadequate and/or unattractive. Most of us get there in the end, accepting ourselves flaws and all, and loving ourselves nonetheless. I guess what I'm advocating is that you cut to the chase, and get to that part now. 'Cause it's sweet :)