I’m not sure that I ever gave much thought to the concept of womanhood until I got married. I don't believe that any conversation I had, any sermon I heard or any class I ever took ever really spoke much to my identity as a woman.
But suddenly, married at the ripe age of twenty years old, everyone had input on what it was that made a good wife. Isn’t that interesting? I never learned anything about being a woman until I was legally bound to a man. I think that describes so much of my life before coming of age and getting married. Thankfully I am married to a wonderful feminist man who sees me as much more than his property, but the focus of this writing is not on my relationship to him and rather on my relationship with myself.
When I was a child, I wanted to be a librarian, an archeologist, a writer, an adventurer. I spent my elementary school years being homeschooled on five and a half acres of mountain land. I got dirty, I climbed trees, I fell into a cactus, I ran from wild animals. I was free. I was secure in myself. I didn’t wonder about being liked or fear rejection - I just played and dreamed and believed that anything was possible, that I could read every book in the giant library my mother built, that the world was my oyster.
I think we learn at a surprisingly young age to be ashamed of our femininity, however it may display itself. The side glances and chuckles as an aunt loudly exclaims that you’ve grown breasts at a family party, the mortifying (to your young adolescent mind) realization that you’ve “become a woman” in the most literal sense and the embarrassment of talking to your parents about menstruation, the constant chiding from uncles about whether or not you have a boyfriend (that you can’t help but notice is never directed at your male cousins). All of these small experiences and the general insecurities of puberty combined to make me fearful of my feminine nature at a relatively young age. I feared being too loud, talking too much, taking up too much space, getting too fat, being too smart, being too dumb, being liked by boys, not being liked by boys, etc. I just wanted to be NORMAL, whatever that meant on any passing day.
I don’t remember the exact moment where I lost that beautiful notion that the world was my canvas, that I alone held the paint, and that I decided what picture my life would create. I lost it somewhere in the fluid, empty space between childhood and adulthood and I suddenly found myself swirling in an ambiguous world, where the ultimate goal was being liked. I was a smart kid, always reading, filling journals with my deepest thoughts and dreams. But suddenly, smart wasn't a currency anymore, or if it was, it was a wrinkled one dollar bill crumpled up and left behind in favor of the crisp twenty called PRETTY.
This notion of beauty being this black and white concept in my mind was furthered by a relationship I entered into near the end of high school. Pretty became the all-encompassing ideal. Pretty became a mantra I repeated every time I made myself throw up after a meal, every time I deprived myself of nourishment in favor of a smaller pant size. Pretty was the only thing tying him to me. And then pretty wasn’t enough anymore and he began to degrade and abuse me in ways I can’t recount without free flowing tears. Pretty became the weapon he used as an excuse to berate me, to hurt me, to diminish me until I was no longer myself, but only the extension of him that he had created. There was always room for improvement: pluck your eyebrows, lose five pounds, dress sexier, be more athletic, put more effort into your looks. This false idea of beauty was the tool that caused my temporary downfall, masterminded by a narcissist who either didn’t realize he was breaking me or enjoyed every minute of it.
I could tell you that my husband was the man who swooped in and fixed everything, but he wasn’t. No man swooped and no man put me back together. Because this isn’t a fairytale and women aren’t one-dimensional. While he has contributed in many ways to teaching me to love myself, the moment that changed it all was the moment my daughter was born, and the next moment nineteen months later when her baby sister was born. These little women have made me look into what womanhood truly means, what I want to teach them about being female, and what it means to build a tribe of women who support each other. I don’t want to be the mom who blinks at the scale and wishes herself away. I won’t be the mom that hates myself without makeup. I refuse to be the mom speaking hate about my body in front of my daughters - or ever. I will be the mom who loves her Frida Kahlo eyebrows and other perceived flaws. I will be the mom who embraces my daughters for their brains, for their beauty, for their bravery, for their shyness, for their kindness and for their wills of steel. I’m twenty seven years old at this moment and here are the things I want to teach my daughters about womanhood:
There is no shame in the way your body curves or the space it takes up. There is no need to apologize for being yourself, for speaking up, for being boisterous. Men and women alike will tell you to simultaneously be more and also less at points in your life: talk less, need less, cause less of a ruckus, stay in your place, don’t question boundaries, be more like ____, be more driven, but demand less than equal compensation, have a traditionally beautiful body, but be less offended when men catcall you, etc. I’m here to tell you that YOU DON’T OWE THEM ANYTHING. You are made of magic, gun powder, brain power and glitter. Your body has the capability to grow human life, break glass ceilings, feed the hungry, run a marathon and probably even fly if you try hard enough. Your mind has the capability to cure cancer, write a hit song, write legislation, and not give a shit what anyone thinks of you. There is strength and softness within you and you get to decide how to use each of them.
I am young in my journey of womanhood.
One day I will have long silver hair and lines on my face that serve as memories of every strain, every laugh, every happy thought that I used to fly.
One day I will have more ideas, new ideas of what it is to be a woman. BUT I don’t think any of us really ever truly arrive and know the answers to this question of being female.
We have already arrived and are always arriving.
Let us walk side by side, as sisters.
What is Simply Sisterhood?
A campaign to end