The woman in my head

Hi everyone. I haven’t written in ages. I’m sorry I didn’t reply to your lovely comments in my last post. I was so tangled up with crazy deadlines and the wedding… But they’ve meant so much to me!

You can see that the blog has changed a little. That’s because I have changed.

One of the first posts I wrote was called When I look in the mirror and it was inspired by Portia de Rossi’s memoir, Unbearable Lightness. That book stayed with me and made me start to question many things about the world around me. What stayed with me the most was the fact that as a child, I watched Ally McBeal and used to dream, wish, pray, hope that I looked like Portia. As a child, and later as a teenager (and as recently as 5 minutes ago) I had issues with how I looked. I thought I was ugly, I thought I was weird, and no one would love me or want me. If only I was taller, had a symmetrical face (my facial features developed independently of each other. I have pictures to prove it), had curves, had different hair, eyes, in a nutshell, if I was a different person, maybe I would be beautiful.

Portia’s book details this exact thought process. And it really shook me to the core that this woman who I thought was absolutely stunning, thought she was absolutely hideous. This fact, that we women are always unhappy with how we look and suffer from deep image disorder, has stayed with me. I started paying more attention to the world around me and tried my best to change my own image disorder.

I grew tired of feeling inadequate. I started to educate myself on women’s issues. On an impulse, I bought Natasha Walter’s Living Dolls. I read it in one day. Then I went back to the first page, and read it again. I went back online and bought Ariel Levy’s Female Chauvinist Pigs. I’ve now also read it twice.

This is what I’ve learned:

I am beautiful.

I am me.

I am a feminist.

Everything I thought about feminism and a woman’s position in society, was wrong. Everything. I used to think feminism meant angry, dowdy, shouty women, complaining about femininity and romance. I was wrong. I was a child. I was a fool.

We live in a world, where everywhere you look, women are naked. Not just naked, but sexualised and objectified. There is nothing wrong with the female naked body.  I don’t believe these women that pose for playboy, Page 3 and Nuts and Zoo magazines are sluts. That is NOT my issue. But I do not think their nakedness is inspiring.  My problem is that the women in Playboy, Nuts, Page 3 etc are falling for and promoting a stereotype of female sexuality that is both WRONG and damaging.

Please, look around.

Women are naked (or half-naked) everywhere. So far, so good. There is nothing wrong with nakedness. The female body and female sexuality should be celebrated. .But, the naked images surrounding us are not about female sexuality. These images of the female body are not about celebrating beauty. They are not empowering. If they were empowering, these photos would be hung up on walls, not kept hidden under mattresses or in the toilet.  These images are primarily to incite lust in men. In them, the women all pose in the same suggestive poses. They all have big breasts, big hair, tanned skin, and a come hither look. They all seem to promote one particular aspect of womanhood.

 As Ariel Levy argues, we seem to have developed a taste for slutty stereotypes. And this stereotype is all over the place. It is so widespread that

women are socialized to objectify themselves in order to be desirable.”

Ariel Levy

And this is not empowerment or liberation. It is objectification. It is degrading. It is demeaning. And it is damaging.

And I fell for it.

When I was a teenager, I hated how I looked. I was always weird looking, not popular, I didn’t have any breasts until  after my 18th birthday. I wore glasses. I was unhappy. Ever since I was a small child I cried when I looked in the mirror (yes, I have always been dramatic).

Oh, how I wish I had read these books growing up. I tried SO hard as a teenager. I was convinced I would only get attention for my looks. I wore extremely sexy clothes, I tried flirting, I danced provocatively. But I didn’t do this because I enjoyed it. I did it because I wanted to feel wanted, I wanted attention. And since I could not get attention by being me, I tried my best to be someone else. I tried to be the stereotype.

I was so unhappy. I want to go back in time, hug my teenage self and tell her it will all be ok. She will be loved. She is beautiful. She is smart, and better than that. I would ask her about all the books she read, but didn’t talk about in school. I would tell her to listen to the music she loves, not the one everyone else is talking about. I would ask her about aliens, and science fiction. I would tell her she would be married to a wonderful man, who her best friend and loves her even when she doesn’t love herself. I would take her shopping, and we would buy some fantastic clothes. We would go dancing together, for fun! I would bring her these books and tell her not to fall for it. I would hug her. And we’d cry together.

Hindsight is a powerful thing, but it is amazing how pervasive this feeling of inadequacy still is. Not just with me, but with many women I know. I have two beautiful younger sisters who should never, ever have to feel this way. We are not happy with who we are.

For me, this is when feminism really struck a chord.The negative thoughts I had and still have about myself and the way I look are individuals acts of violence. At the very root of those thoughts, is the belief that there is something wrong with me, with the way I am, with the way I look. Is the belief that I’m not good enough.

And this belief comes from the world around us, who STILL believes there is only one way to be a woman. A world that STILL thinks there is only one way to be sexual. A world where women have to have plastic surgery and starve themselves to feel beautiful. This is a world where woman with sex lives are seen as sluts and women who are virgins are prudes. This is a world where women STILL cannot win. A world where women STILL do not receive equal pay. A world where women are STILL not properly represented in government. A world where women are STILL victims of horrible violence and STILL made to feel guilty about that violence. Don’t believe me?

Please visit Project Unbreakable.

Please search for the #ididnotreport on twitter.

Please read this article.

Please, please watch this video:

“the first step is to educate ourselves. to become aware”

Jean Kilbourne

I am not in any way suggesting that my self-esteem issues are violence of the same magnitude as physical and sexual abuse. I am saying that the root of the problem is the same belief that there is something wrong with women.

Please don’t tell me I’m overreacting. Please don’t tell me there truly is equality. Please don’t tell me we are fully liberated. I will believe that we have equality, power and liberation when this is not represented by Playboy.

I’ve had it. I’ve just had it.

The woman in my head is desperate to come out. A woman who is beautiful, strong, smart and who tries her hardest to be happy with who she is. This woman is the ballerina in my head, who dances to her own music and who stands up to stereotypes, inequality and violence. She will not be objectified. The ballerina in my head is a feminist.

And I think I am finally ready to be her. To be me.

The stars under my control - Dan-ah Kim

The stars under my control - Dan-ah Kim

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11 thoughts on “The woman in my head

  1. I’ve been wondering about your Feminism pins on Pinterest; this explains it. I was quite a bit like you in terms of self-esteema s a teen. I did as you did – cry/feel depressed/ugly when I stood in front of a mirror, and still do once in a while.

    But I grew up in a different place and a different culture. I find that an interesting difference between you and me. Perhaps because where I am I couldn’t dress more provocatively or dance that way, I had to turn to feminism a lot earlier than you did. I’ve never read on it as you have, but was exposed to it by a young female teacher of mine (she was my debate coach and taught me Literature – specifically The Taming of the Shrew).

    Nina, honey, you are MashAllah so very lucky. I hope you remember that every time you feel the slightest bit blue. Love you!

    S.

    • It’s just such a big eye-opener, you know? And you feel silly that this is a big revelation, when it really shouldn’t be.

      I’ve been thinking about you a lot and how I wish you were here. We would have talked about this at Pret!!
      I know I am lucky, and I am so grateful for all the wonderful things in my life. Like you!

      love you xxx

      • I know, it is an eye opener. And it’s such a power high, isn’t it? = )

        When I was in London, I remember buying a card and writing it to myself. It’s up on my board now, and I read it every once in a while. Just sort of a ‘you did it despite everything’ spiel. It helps!

        I miss Pret-ting with you so much! There’s a cafe around the corner from one of my work places and I was thinking the other day that you would love it!

        xx
        Love you!

        • I love what you said about your card, because Pinterest has served that goal for me. And you know, it has helped the procrastinating enormously!!!

          Did you know, I applied for a job at Pret and they did not hire me? THE HORROR!! Maybe we should boycott it when you get back!

          love you xxx

  2. Oh Nina,
    what a post, what a read, speaking so clearly and honestly to all of us. I wept at your “time-traveling-trip” to visit your teenage self, those years are so hard for all of us, and it’s not until we obtain a clearer understanding of the world we live, but more importantly the person inside, can we begin to reconcile those painful teenage years.

    Why are we so destructive to ourselves? It has only been since i turned 40 (yes I know) that I can say with my hand on my heart, that i am truly happy, comfortable, confident and at peace with the woman I am. For too long I tried to be what society believed I should be, and I played along, surely it’s what life is meant to be like?

    How wrong I was, it wasn’t until ballet came into my life did I discover what inner strength I had, who I needed to be (hidden from the world) true to myself and take control over the destructive thoughts inside. Facing yourself in a mirrored studio, seeing multiple reflections of yourself has been hard, but there are those times when you see your sole reflecting back at you. That’s the moment when everything changes.

    When will the media wake up to the fact that their days are numbered if they continue to peddle this stereotype garbage which adorns their pages/feeds/links. Social media is becoming the voice of 21st century, people free to make up their own minds and stop trying to measure up to an unattainable image of who/what/why they should be.

    Your strength and voice speaks to all of us, and the stars are definitely under your control.

    Bless you
    Bx

    • Hi Becca, thank you so much for the wonderful comments. It means so much to me that you liked it.

      It is insane, isn’t it, just how destructive we can be to ourselves… I’m 24, and I’m still learning to be me and I am happy with who I am. sure, there are many things I still need to fix about myself, but these are not cosmetic changes. I was brought up to believe that everyday we should strive to be better than we were before… It is hard, but worth having a go.

      Thank you so much my dear! You are such a gorgeous person and I’m so glad I’ve met you!!

  3. I am so proud of you, Nina! I am proud to be your friend and to be able to stand by you as a sister, a feminist, a scholar, and a ballerina!

    I truly believe that our greatest fight for our own freedom is in our own minds, hearts, souls, and bodies. How can society accept us as we are when we cannot? How can we be embraced as a gender that is as capable and strong as the male species when we doubt ourselves and undermine our own worth? The reality is, we can’t and we should not blame others for because we refuse to stand up and be counted. Each one of us must begin to rise up to carry not only the beauty and grace of our gorgeous gender but also to meet the responsibilities of freedom. One of the most amazing and powerful strengths of the female character is our innate ability to join together, nurture, and care for one another. We are so capable of supporting each other, of feeding encouragement to our sisters, and of creating a strength that is both tender and powerful.

    Now I’m not saying that there is not problems from the outside, problems with society – obviously, there are serious issues out there! I remember years ago saying to Carboy that there were moments when I felt that investing in my education was fiscally unsound and that we should be sending him to graduate school because we would make a greater return on investment since as a man, he would definitely make more money that I would. But we cannot change the world until we change ourselves.

    Just this last month, a very good friend of mine who I have known and loved as a sister for years went under the knife for breast implants. It saddened me so much. She is a beautiful woman, tall and thin and perfectly lovely. I thought that she had wonderful self-image and confidence. And then she took me took me to lunch to tell me that she wanted to “feel more like a girl” and was getting breast implants that same week. When women who have brilliant educations, wonderful careers, are lovely and talented are feeling that their femininity is in their breasts, it’s time to start rallying in the streets! It wasn’t the actual implants that I was against (although I really have issue with unnecessary surgery and implants have long been under suspicion for being unhealthy), it was why that gave me pause and made me sad.

    This is a beautiful post and it made me so happy to read it. I encourage you to find ways to integrate your feminist stand in your academic work as well. It has a place there and will strengthen your work immensely. You are an amazing woman!

    Big hugs and much love, XXX

    ~Lorry

    • Thank you so much Lorry. And it is true, we should start changing ourselves, because we also contribute to this sorry state of affairs by falling for it…. This comes first.

      And I know how you feel about your friend. It is so, so sad that women feel that they have to surgically alter themselves in order to feel pretty. Did you know, I’ve been reading a lot on vaginal rejuvenation surgery, and apparently it is quite popular. One doctor said women bring him Playboy photos as a template for the surgery….

      What is wrong with this picture? let me count the ways…

      Love you lots! xxxx

  4. Nina, darling!
    I’m 20 years older and still fighting the same battle. Like, trying to diet while on chemo…..

    You are brave, strong, beautiful and so very kind, which is exactly what a contemporary feminist should be. When my female students start a comment with “I’m not a feminist, but…” it breaks my heart. You make me feel hope.

    Acacia

    • Oh Acacia, thank you so much for your beautiful words. I can relate to you so much, obviously in a different scale, but still. About a year ago, my health was going a bit crazy, but instead of trying to eat better, all I could think about was dieting. How crazy is that?

      Thankfully, I don’t have the discipline to diet. And now I am 100% sure I don’t need to.

      And don’t lose faith on your students. I used to say the exact same thing!

      much love xxx

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