March 18, 2016

Why Is It So Hard To Be A Woman?

Why Is It So Hard To Be A Woman? (Me at Salvation Mountain)

Last week saw our social media feeds flood with appreciative, inspiring and bold posts for International Women's Day 2016. In a society where women are constantly pitted against one another, it's always refreshing to see women celebrate women for our strengths, achievements and all round bad-assery. I'm going to take a moment a whole post to say that being a woman is really hard, there's no denying it.

There is so much pressure on our shoulders to be, look and act a certain way - a way that society tells us is the norm. We are used to having our bodies shamed, condemned and criticised. We're blasted for being "too thin", we're blasted for having just given birth and not having an ironing board stomach, we're blasted for having any kind of alternative appearance (apparently I'd be so much prettier if I didn't have tattoos - that came from my own auntie). We are all just trying to navigate through the maze of life, all the while thinking about and juggling a million different things an hour. My usual internal dialogue is something along the lines of:

"Are my cuticles tidy? Is my hair shiny? Did I eat any vegetables today? Does that eyebrow really sit higher than the other? Your hair isn't shiny because you haven't washed it for a week. Does the cat need fresh litter? Oh my god why has acne chosen me? I'm going to die one day. No you just ate pizza today - you are a garbage person! Do my ankles look silly with these trousers? Ring your grandma!"


Beauty Standards 


There's a lot on our plates even before these appearance-related pressures. A lot of the standards we conform to aren't necessarily conscious decisions. They're pushed on to us from a young age. From the toys we are given to play with, to being told that little girls don't do things a certain way, or realising in high school that if you don't wear makeup you're an anomaly. We are led to believe by the media (and society) that 'perfection' is within easy reach - as long as we use their face cream, shave our legs, eat their low-fat yoghurt and dye our hair, but only after washing it with their smoothing anti-frizz, silicone-laden shampoo... It's all very insidious.

This kind of pressure can also come from within. Internalised misogyny/sexism is something that occurs when women act out learned sexist behaviours on themselves and other women. This kind of behaviour is usually unintentional. I'm simplifying here, but if you've ever heard somebody say, "I'm not crazy like other girls" or "I don't get along with women, I just have guy friends", that's a subtle example of internalised misogyny. 

Internalised misogyny also affects how we view ourselves and has the potential to lead to serious issues surrounding our sense of worth and body-image. Studies have found connections between internalised sexism and disordered eating, body shame and self-objectification. Another effect is unhealthy competition between women, such as social exclusion, malicious gossip and women putting each other down, all in an attempt to look or feel better. I could actually reel off numerous examples of this type of behaviour affecting me personally and I'm sure you could, too. I'm also certain I have demonstrated these behaviours myself, but now, at 26, I strive to educate myself, be more self-aware and question my thought processes. 


Body-Image {Possible trigger coming up - eating, food and weight}


Throughout high school and into my later teens/early twenties, I basically starved myself. I counted calories, read the back of every food packet and felt proud of the way my hip bones jutted out. I even used a tape measure to measure the circumference of my thighs, upper arms and wrists. I did still eat one meal a day after school when I lived at home (probably how I got away with it) and this low-grade disordered eating hasn't developed into a more serious issue.

I'm not necessarily saying that this is down to internalised misogyny, nor am I blaming my parents' dysfunctional relationship (just slipping that one in there...) or society's pressures, I'm sure it's caused by several factors, but for me, being thin or slim is something I feel I *have* to be. I absolutely loathe to admit that. It's not an admission that screams "I am a strong, independent woman".

I don't hate my body, I even really like some parts, yet there's occasions (rarer, these days) where I'll see a photo of myself and tell my husband that my face is wonky/I look ugly/fat. When I say this to myself, it's as if the worst thing I could be is "fat" and I'm not proud of myself for thinking that way. Being - or rather, having - fat is not something anybody should be shamed for and, by using the word 'fat' in a negative way, I'm succumbing and contributing to that made-up ideal of what a female body should look like. I would never use that word in order to criticise another woman and I would be deeply upset if anybody used it in attempt to hurt me or somebody else, so why do I use it to criticise myself? That's the million dollar question and something I'm addressing.

In saying all of this, I want to make it clear that I do not have an eating disorder. My weight doesn't rule my life and I have developed a much more relaxed attitude to food over the last few years. I put that down to a few factors; a stable relationship where I don't need to seek validation in various forms to feel worthy or loved (harking back to where I mentioned self-objectification above), growing up and becoming more self-aware and wanting to nurture my body, because I understand the impact not eating has on my overall mental and physical health. Not consuming enough calories or a varied diet can have detrimental effects on bones, teeth, skin, hair, fertility... All things I want to look after.

Alas, it's there and it sometimes doesn't take much for me to start falling into the trap of beating myself up emotionally, so I try to check myself when that happens. I question why I feel sick with anxiety when the doctor weighs me (I can't have scales in my house because I will obsessively weigh myself and identified them as a trigger a while ago) or why I'm so hard on myself for currently weighing 9 stone (at 5'7" that's a "healthy" weight), but I'm working on managing these thoughts, when they arise, in a healthier way. I want to eradicate my mindset that 'thin = superior' because that is, quite frankly, bullshit.

This entire post has been self-indulgent and long-winded, but going back to my point - it is hard to be a woman. I want to do anything I can to not make it harder than it already is and I hope you can find ways to do this too - for yourself and for the women in your life.

What pressures do you feel to conform and fit in? How does your self-image impact on your day-to-day life? I'd love to hear from you! Feel free to chime in with your thoughts, experiences, bread recipes, links to cute animals... 

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13 comments

  1. Fantastic post I couldn't agree with you more strongly in this subject I think from when we were in school things have come along way on, however considering how advanced the human race claims to be we haven't come far enough for the women to accepted and treated as equal by all of society.

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    1. There is still a very long way to go I agree, Bruno. I think the best thing we can do is educate ourselves and empower the women around us!

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  2. This is pretty spot on concerning self image. Having just given birth and having gained pretty big, noticeable stretchmarks (which I can now see day in day out now that my bump is gone), I often find myself looking at all my wobbly, scarred bits and getting really down about them. It can be hard to tell myself to stop being a div, and that growing a 10lb baby was bound to have an effect on my body, and that the fact I did grow a whole other human is something to be celebrated, regardless of what it's done to my body. In the weeks following birth I weighed myself daily until I got down to my pre-pregnancy weight (still regarded as obese by BMI) and then I felt like I'd achieved something. Like hello! There's a baby in the other room that proves you achieved something dickhead. Anyway this was a bit of a ranty comment. Good post Katie ��

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    1. Lou! That 10lb baby is the biggest (literally) achievement! I can't pretend to know exactly how you feel as I'm yet to go through pregnancy, and I'm sure the changes from growing him are an adjustment, but you grew a life and only very recently gave birth. Be kind to yourself because you've just done an amazing thing. I'm not giving you unsolicited advice here because nobody needs that, but if you want to try something - massaging vitamin e oil into the marks may help them them settle down if that's something that would make you feel better! Much love xxx

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  3. My self confidence is completely non-existent. I find that since I've had a baby and not being able to lose my baby weight I feel almost like I've kind of 'failed' in someway. I feel people look at me when I go out and my clothes cling to my 9 month old post baby wobbly belly. I see other mums who have literally snapped back into shape and sometimes want to cry. I often spend about an hour changing my clothes before I go out always using the excuses 'I don't feel comfortable' or 'I look too fat' and I actually get angry at my husband when he tells me I look fine. I often wonder if I'll ever actually be happy with how I look and I definitely don't feel as though my body is how a woman should look, although I've carried a life. Its almost like I want to remove every scrap of evidence of my previous pregnant belly because to me being slim after having a baby is now the 'norm'

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    1. I'm sorry to hear you're struggling with your self-confidence, Sophie. It really upsets me to hear that new mums are worrying about their appearance. Like I just said to my friend above, you've done an amazing thing by growing an actual human life. 9 months is not a very long time at all and the last thing you should have to think about is looking a certain way because you feel pressured - I'm sure raising a baby leaves very little time for you. I'm not one to pass out advice when it's not been sought, but maybe you can find some time to put aside just for you to do things that make you feel good. A soak in the bath, a walk, a yoga class... whatever that may be to take a breather and tune in to your needs a bit more. Confidence isn't about being a certain weight or having a particular figure. I hope you're feeling yourself soon. You're beautiful x

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  4. I really like how you've addressed internalised misogyny- I've been guilty of it myself and let the need of approval of others guide my behaviour and judgement when it really shouldn't have! Nice to see you getting content up recently, I enjoy reading it ��

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    1. Thanks for the sweet comment and feedback! I was hesitant to talk about that particular subject as I don't want my blog to come across as heavy or alienating - it's good to know how people respond to my content.

      I think once you become aware of internalised misogyny and what it is, you realise how and when it's affected you in your daily life. Sometimes that's enough to start addressing it and make changes to your thinking/the way you interact with others! X

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  5. Hi! I really liked your post! I think every woman has their own little stories they could tell you and I'm thankful to you for sharing yours! There's been no point in my life where I'm not being criticized by someone on my outward appearance and it used to really affect me when I was a self-conscious teen. I remember in high school I felt criticized for trying make-up and wearing more revealing clothing than my friends...I think I remember fake and trying to get boys or something as some of the snarky comments. I was just exploring who I was and what I liked and wanted which was hard when being surrounded by critical females who want to shame you. Even my father wanted to show me how to blow out my hair and leg exercises I could do to be more feminine (course now it seems a little sexist��). Then as an adult I was shamed by my coworkers for being too skinny and would get picked out for eating salads yet still get scoffed at for my 'lack of booty'. People are just dang hard to please so I'm really grateful for all the female role models out there that have inspired me to love myself and to know that I know what is best for me and to ignore the chatter. All women are beautiful and are capable of holding their own and seriously fuck anyone who tells you otherwise! My favorite part about being a woman is being able to connect to other wonderful woman so thanks for putting the good vibes out there! Xoxo

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    1. I love the sentiment of your comment, Jacqueline. Once you decide that you really do know what's best for yourself, it puts you in a stronger position to drown out all the noise and just do you. Thanks for sharing xx

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  6. Such an enlightening post, and I agree that we are all dealing with situations like this, as women, no matter how much we try not to be involved with it.


    Personally I am currently BATTLING with a horrible bout of skin problems (probably ecyzma) on my face, which I've now had continuously for 4 months, and tried absolutely EVERYTHING from dietry restrictions to medical prescriptions. Every single day I am battling with myself, looking in the mirror and being disgusted at how bad it looks, not wanting to leave the house which is causing all kinds of anxiety. And then I have to force myself to snap out of it and stop crying over it...... I live an otherwise happy life and I'll look at myself and think - I would never judge another girl (or anyone) for having eczyma on their face, and it is not stopping me from living.... but it is really hard and I constantly feel this internal conflict, and I am pretty certain that it is because we are all drummed in from an early age that we have to look a certain way and have perfect skin at all times, which makes it so hard to forget about when you are out living life trying to get on with it. I'm lucky also to have an amazing relationship where I am seen for myself and not judged from it.

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    1. Thanks for the kind words! I truly understand the reality of dealing with a visible skin issue and you have my deepest sympathies. I do hope you can find some relief from it soon! Have you explored any alternative therapies, such as herbalism?

      As well as my struggles with acne, I have psoriasis on my joints, mainly ankles and knees, that is really unsightly. It's not the 'usual' flakey plaque type and looks like a purple bumpy rash. Like you say, I would never judge somebody else for having problematic skin (or anything else!) and that does help me in my plight towards being kinder to myself - hopefully it's the same for you! x

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  7. Loved this post and your honesty. I struggle constantly with feelings of "not being good enough" and with being so self-critical of everything - both external and internal. Thoughts that "I'm not pretty enough, thin enough, smart enough, funny enough etc..." which at the deep root of it all came from the way my Mother would talk to me about relationships and how men should see me, which for her was more important than how I should see myself. Sadly, society doesn't seem to be any different. I completely resonated with your comments about internal misogyny, nail on the head right there. It's tough as women to be fighting an external battle for equality and the right to not be objectified, but yet internally we are so hard on ourselves. One thing that I have started doing is I have cut out reading/watching and following things which just add to those negative messages of "not being good enough", and instead I've replaced them with reading encouraging blogs (such as yours and HeyFranHey another goodie), podcasts (Call Your Girlfriend is one of my favs) and just filling my life with positive reinforcements that have no bearing on what I look like or how I should be to attract a mate. Life is far too short. Not that it isn't a daily struggle, it really is,I just want it to be about what I can contribute as a person as opposed to what I look like as a woman.
    Thanks again, you really are extraordinary.

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