I spent a very enjoyable weekend celebrating the sistahood (kapow!) at WOW festival* a while ago and it has spurned me on to finally publish a few blog posts I’ve had in draft form for the past year. In honour of WOW (which was weeks ago now, but hey) here goes.
I arrived early to Susie Orbach’s session at WOW. I’d just meandered along The Southbank which was bathed in unseasonal March sunshine, I was high on RFH brownies (THE BEST) and my kid-free self was feeling pretty pumped. Especially because it sounded like we would be discussing some things I had already started to seriously mull over since Frankie and her eager eyes came along. The session was called “The Personal is still Political: will you Occupy your Body?” and opened with a group discussion about whether our body hang-ups might have stopped us from doing something recently. And there were so, so many things. One of us hadn’t gone swimming due to feeling ‘fat’. Another wouldn’t wear certain clothes if they showed her certain scars or marks. Scores of women wore extremely limited wardrobes because they felt restricted by their body shapes. And story after story spilled out, of women feeling shame or hatred about their bodies not meeting this vague but powerful vision of ‘perfect womanhood’ we see everywhere around us.
But lets backtrack a minute, to having a baby, to Frankie and her curious eager eyes. Having a baby is monumentally life changing. Like enormous mountain-movingly life changing. And one of the biggest shifts for me has been in how I think about myself as a woman. Having a kid, a daughter, is some serious shizzle. What will she learn from me about being a woman, both inadvertently and directly? What messages am I passing on to her about who she is and what she can achieve? What am I demonstrating to her about being ok with your body, about loving your body even, and not wasting precious time hating yourself? (Things I, and I suspect most women, have struggled with).
There is nothing like a small eager pair of eyes following your every move to make you question how you do things. Frankie often watches us get ready to leave the house. On the mornings when Dave didn’t so much as glance in the mirror before haring out the door, yet I stood there for at least 20 minutes putting a shocking amount of hair product in my hair, plucking eyebrows, and slathering my face in make up, what does Frankie learn? On days when it is a case of layering on pink lipstick to add a bit of happiness to a crappy day or because I’m in a ‘wear all of the colours” sort of mood, then great. It’s good to be bright sometimes! I wish more men felt they could do the same. But I used to apply make up every single day, to hide spots, bags and perceived imperfections on my face. Every. Single. Day. Think of all of the time I have collectively spent doing that? The daily application of this make up was not an expression of colour or creativity but was about wearing a mask. It was about me trying to nudge my face and body a bit closer to ‘What a Woman Should Look Like’. And by that I mean, young, skinny, hairless and smooth. When I put it like that I can’t believe I was ever duped enough in to buying into it. I say ‘was’ because I have actually almost entirely stopped wearing make up (bar the exceptions above), a slow process that began in the exhausting aftermath of having a baby, and not even being able to find time to poop, never mind clean myself or apply make up.
There is always time for lunch from the food market. yum.
And, whilst I’m on a confession roll, I’ve shaved my armpits once in the last 18 months. Again, this started with neglect, in the new baby ‘how do I find time to make a cup of goddam tea’ days but turned into something else. A quiet little protest. In my pits…. Because I am done with being part of the ridiculous “women aren’t hairy/spotty/tired (etc), honest!” façade. The more I think about it the more laughable it becomes. Why do we spend so much time and money shaving, plucking and waxing our body hair; mostly painfully? So much time and money on make up and hair stuff? Why do we do that when it is entirely normal for most men to rarely have to think about such inconvenient things**? Why is the image of a hairy woman so unacceptable or even disgusting for so many people? (In my case, including close family members!) I’m still in the midst of all of these personal epiphanies/angsty musings and am by no means on the other side of it but I sincerely hope that by the time I’m a grandmother we’ll look back and laugh at the ridiculous things we did to our bodies in the name of ‘beauty’. I hope. But until then, I’m going to let Frankie and those eager eyes be my compass as I continue to navigate through these new women/motherhood/girlhood thoughts and revelations.
Info and links
The session was led by Susie Orbach in conjunction with AnyBody , a brilliant campaign group: “dedicated to giving voice to groups and individuals challenging our devastating acceptance of body hatred as normal. We collect evidence, raise awareness and speak out to challenge government policy and complacency.” Check out their ace website, I particularly like their section on mums.
My feminism, as I have iterated before, is definitely a process. I related too, and absolutely loved this TED talk by Courtney Martin (founder of feministing.com) about the role of mothers in their daughters activism, and the paradoxes and failures of trying to figure things out.
*I know that pressure on men to look a certain way is also an important issue, and there are all sorts of mens issues that need more attention. But- I debated whether there was a need to state something so stupidly obvious but here goes- global misogyny is rampant in a way that misandry just isn’t, and is therefore definitely worth more attention etc.
** WOW festival is Women of the World Festival, an awesome feminist festival held on the Southbank in London very year. I’m going to try to go every year. Where else can you rub shoulders with Susie Orbach, Ruby Wax, Shami Chakrabarti, Vivienne Westwood and 12-year-old girls kicking misogynist ass in their schools? Just so good. and the brownies?! oh my.