Cliches, clichés. Cliches are the cliché of every woman’s life. Our worlds are constructed on set-in-stone clichés. Even transitions are clichéd, at specific times, in defined ways. You know what the biggest cliché of an empowered, modern woman’s life is?
Nobody tells you how this is to happen, though. But like all other things in this complex life of a woman, the expectation is laid on you as well as the punishments for not achieving it. Let’s take a baby’s life to be a blank page. If she’s female, that page is very quickly filled up with other people’s expectations, societal rules and bounded by severe punishments for straying beyond the lines. In addition, there is a steady influx of messages that belittle her and invalidate her independent thought, especially if it opposes tradition. And finally, the Pavlovian methods of child-rearing invariably reward the girl who sets aside herself for the sake of everyone else and punishes her if she thinks about herself. “It’s not ladylike”, “What a bitch”, “Don’t be a selfish brat”. Where is there room for self-love?
The first step is to realize and accept that you are more than other people’s expectations and the fulfillment or not of them.
Today, I went for a swim. Mid-lap I thought about ice-cream and I wondered whether I’d take it any further. On my way back, I remembered the thought but the shop was across the road. Then, I spotted a break in the divider exactly in front of the shop. And I walked across and bought myself an ice-cream cone.
There’s nothing quite like the little treats that you surprise yourself with. I enjoyed that ice-cream and I would have said “Thank you. I love you so much!” to myself if it didn’t sound so ridiculous inside my own head. I felt it, anyway.
I’m in the midst of a personal transition phase at the moment where I’m observing myself and other people as if from outside. I find that there is very little empathy, patience or caring to be found in most men for women. I’m not saying that men are bad or cold. I just think that the social structure that we all belong to, does not teach women to demand love, attention & respect the way men do. In addition, it does not teach men to treat women’s expressions as anything other than trivial, illogical or as control issues. Thus every woman I know (including myself) lives with being invalidated or unheard for most part. We don’t even realize how much it erodes our self-esteem.
Most women have absolutely no notion of their self, let alone how to love that self. I say, start small and simple. Look at how you treat your friends, especially when they’re down. Women traditionally support their loved ones with empathy, witholding judgement, offering moral boosts. If you can do that for other people, it’s only fair you do that for yourself. This is the first and biggest challenge since we’re programmed from early childhood that any thought of self and self-serving actions is bad (‘selfish’, ‘bitchy’, ‘spoilt’, ‘bratty’).
Women who taste success in some form, usually manage to pass this stage. I guess the first step in falling in love is noticing, approving and liking. This is true even in the person you’re falling in love with, is yourself. Don’t stop there though. Women who stop here sometimes go too far and get rabid – with men and with other women. This is the stereotype of the male-bashing, bitter ‘feminist’ (note the quotes here, please, before outraging).
After awhile of being in love, you realize you need to do more than fight against the rest of the world to prove your devotion. Being good company is necessary for the ‘in-love’. If you’re angry all the time, you’re really not good company for yourself and you’re making it harder for yourself to love you. Be peaceful, be nice, first and foremost to yourself. Don’t invalidate your feelings. There are enough of people who will do that. You shouldn’t do that to your best friend and you certainly shouldn’t do that to yourself. Never deny your feelings or tell yourself that you’re fat, ugly, stupid or not worth it.
Get to know yourself just like you would a new boyfriend or friend. Find out what really makes you laugh, what tickles your fancy, what brings a smile to your face when you’re not facing a camera. While on this, try one cliche. Look at yourself in the mirror and really observe. Chances are that for the first few seconds, you will ONLY notice your flaws. Crooked smiles, uneven teeth, unplucked eyebrows, greying hair, extra inches, stretch marks. Then close your eyes and take a deep breath. Then open and stare at yourself in the eyes for a full two minutes. Time it, with an alarm so you’re not distracted with clock-watching. Eventually you will start to see beyond the flaws. This might take a minute and happen the first time or it might take longer. I guess this varies from person to person. And if it doesn’t happen at once, remember the step before. Be your own best friend and prop your self-esteem up.
Loving yourself, if you are a woman is probably the biggest challenge you will ever face. But if you can be a friend, a lover, a spouse, a partner, a mother, a support system, you can and definitely should learn to be all of these things to yourself.