Scrolling through my Insta feed, conscious that my weekly screentime has soared since the start of lockdown but still wanting to nose on how everyone’s been adapting, I saw a post by @ThereSheGlowsBlog_ that said “Pretty is not the rent you pay to exist in this world as a woman” and it knocked me sideways.
It felt like an epiphany. Like finally someone had put into words the incoherent melange of thoughts that had been darting around my head for a few weeks. Up until seeing this post, I had been trying to verbalise what it was I had been feeling, but Abigail’s post worded it more unequivocally then I ever could.
These thoughts began flickering in my mind after one of the House 21 brunches which I’d hosted alongside Donna AKA my mum and fellow House 21 founder. All meeting up for brunch and networking feels like a decade ago, as I currently type this having not seen another human being in the flesh apart from my parents in three weeks and counting, but yes, there was a time not so long ago when all of us House 21’ers would brunch, laugh and learn together. This brunch in particular was the first time that we had revealed our House 21 t-shirts. We had been thinking as we came up to our first anniversary that we wanted the brand to have merchandise that everyone could use and enjoy, and t-shirts felt like a great place to start. I genuinely felt like my pride at revealing our t-shirts was so beaming, that I could’ve singlehandedly powered the O2 from the solar power my glow was producing. I felt ten feet tall.
Having wrapped up after the event, I left Donna to wrestle with the last of the pop-up banners as I nipped to the bathroom to ready myself for the drive home. I caught a glimpse of myself in one of the mirrors at an angle which actually made my blood freeze – I looked six months pregnant! Have I actually looked like this all day, I wanted to scream. I couldn’t bear to look in the mirror again and made my way back to the brunch room where Donna was waiting for me to head home. Not five minutes before, I had felt like I could conquer the world if I wanted to, but now I was deflated and miserable. On our long drives home, Donna and I normally crank up the Spotify and belt out the same Motown classics that we’ve been wearing out since I can remember, but that day I just wasn’t feeling it. A portion of the melancholy was a sort of self-loathing at how awful my reflection had been and another portion was annoyance at myself for allowing my appearance to affect my mood so significantly. I was in a hate-filled spiral of detesting the way I’d looked and then getting angrier with myself for allowing myself to detest myself.
As we arrived home a couple of hours later, I’d managed to pick another fight with myself – I was furious with my own consciousness for allowing my appearance to overshadow that day’s professional achievements. I’d never before considered myself to be much of a victim to the patriarchy, but this misery I was feeling was cold, hard evidence that I had allowed oppressive, patriarchal ideologies to take up residence in a very considerable part of my brain, and over time such harmful doctrines had dripped poison into my own thoughts without me even realising. Here I was, allowing how “pretty” I looked to dominate in my priority list over how successful I was.
In the weeks which have passed since that event, I’m almost grateful that I hit that low because it gave me an opportunity for self-reflection and opportunity for personal improvement. It’s made me much more aware of the content I’m consuming and caused me to question whether it is helpful or harmful.
The facts are that I am healthy and I am mostly happy with the way that I look. I work out, I am active and I eat well, but I also won’t say no to some nachos if anybody’s offering. Does that make me less worthy? Does that mean I am less of a person than the woman standing next to me three dress sizes smaller? Does that demean my achievements? Does that make it less important when I have something to say? Not in my book.
The truth of the matter is that in the week before the event I had a treat weekend with my besties which had included a Turtle Bay feast, not one but two drunken Maccies trips, countless sugar-filled cocktails, as well as a mid-week date night with pizza and wine for Dutch-courage, and as someone who consciously eats very basic food and healthy food most of the time, this influx of treats had bloated me like a space hopper. So of course, I looked ready to birth an infant when wearing my new fitted branded tee. But did any of that actually matter?
Just over a year ago Donna and I started a brand from nothing. We worked our behinds off to build it to where it is now and continue to build on it so that it can hopefully reach new heights again by this time next year. Thirty women had travelled on their Sunday to join us at our workshop. Tickets had sold out quicker than they had for any event we’d hosted before. We’d arranged fantastic guest speakers who engaged brilliantly with the attendees. We’d found our best venue yet and had organised a two-course brunch of varying options for all attendees plus speakers. As they left, the attendees new and familiar were coming up to hug and thank us for such a brilliant event. One even told me that the brunch had been her first social event of the year because of her anxiety, but our events made her feel so welcome that she didn’t even think twice before attending. But according to the patriarchal venom that infiltrates every vestige of our media, all of that pales into insignificance if I had a bit of a belly that day.
And so, after seeing Abigail’s post, I’ve vowed never to let such toxicity cloud my judgement again. No longer will I be obsequious to the companies who capitalise on our self-loathing and who oxygenate the view that a woman’s worth is determined by her appearance. That includes the clothing brands who include a token “plus size” model in their campaigns so that they can use unattainably skinny models with impunity, as they are just as culpable as the brands who openly encourage insecurity.
I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t want to be attractive or to be seen as pretty, and if this lockdown has proven anything it is that I definitely never dressed up for my own benefit, but I refuse to let anyone proselytize me to believe that I am less worthy because of a tummy, or a spot, or a frizzy hair day. If I look good – great. If I don’t – I’m still a human being worthy of respect. Not everybody in the world will agree, but, as the ancient Chinese proverb goes: “Your vibe attracts your tribe”. OK so that may be neither ancient nor Chinese, but it’s still pretty profound, right? If you believe and live your positivity, refusing to let in anyone that threatens to rain all over it, then you’re going to find yourself sooner or later surrounded by some pretty amazing people. It turns out, those people were around me all along – I just needed to boot out my own negativity to realise it.