A LOOK INTO MY ROCKY RELATIONSHIP WITH MY IDENTITY
Womanhood is an ever-changing notion; a fluid parameter by which we are defined – and ultimately implicated by – in almost every aspect of our daily lives. Despite our best efforts, the dissimilarities between the standards shown towards men and women have meant that it’s left I, among with many others, struggling with our identity. Understanding our worth; our rights and values in society and how we ‘should’ conduct ourselves to conform to such a profound title, it’s something I’ve struggled with, well, for as long as I can remember.
The penultimate entry in my International Women’s Day series,
“In the egoic state, your sense of self, your identity, is derived from your thinking mind – in other words, what your mind tells you about yourself: the storyline of you, the memories, the expectations, all the thoughts that go through your head continuously and the emotions that reflect those thoughts.”
– ECKHART TOLLE
Punctuated by grazed knees and an inherent dislike for anything conventionally ‘girly’, navigating my way through childhood was interesting. Conformed to the instructions of my parents (no matter how many times they tried, I was not getting into a dress) and followed by comments such as “oh Becca darling you can’t do that, that’s not for girls”, it’s a time of my life that I haven’t worked out how to define.
Retrospectively, it was a time of my life where I felt stunted by the lack of assurance I had over my own identity. I was left lost and despondent. My peers around me – or so it seemed – were growing into themselves at a mile a minute and whilst they were growing up, buying bras and facing the fact that their voices were breaking, I was left in behind.
The first time I noticed this delay in response to who I was and what my body was (and was going to be) going through was getting my first bra. Ah, the inaugural right of passage for every young girl and engrained in my memory as if from birth, I remember it so vividly that I could draw it frame by frame if I had to.
Duped by cliche teen dramas and the likes of Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging, I was under the impression that my first foray into be a shopping would be filled with pride and assurance. I’d proudly declare that I needed one and once mine, I’d go about my daily life with a new sense of self and a ‘I’m a woman now, back off’ attitude. The reality? Hastily placing a note on our bathroom mirror (Mum, I want a bra xox), knowing full well she’d see it when getting ready for work, and then hastily waiting for her to return with Tesco’s finest offering. What followed can only be described as a cataclysmic breakdown over having to face and acknowledge an aspect of my body I was so overwhelmed and intimidated by at the same time.
Before this moment, I was a scruffy-faced girl who loved nothing more than playing tag rugby with her friends and singing along to HSM with her best friend, Vicky. At the time, however, it felt like I was simultaneously in the middle of the ocean and under the scrutiny of a million pairs of eyes all at once. All confidence I once had flew right out of the window and I began to hyperventilate under the pressure of having (practically non-existent) boobs. I felt ashamed. To me, and thanks to the messages portrayed in the media, boobs (and bras) = sex. Yes, I’m sure my double As would’ve been the last thing on people’s minds at that age, but for me, one wrong turn and I was heading straight to the leopard-print lace thongs we all know and (regretfully) loved.
My ‘womanhood’, or lack of, felt like it had been put on blast, the latest headline on the front of a newspaper for the whole world to comment on.
“Women never form a self because they ‘need never undergo an identity crisis’, yet they have an identity to lose: ‘the price of wifehood is the abandonment of self …”
– JUDITH KEEGAN GARDINER
As I blindly navigated my teens – caught somewhere between awkward conversations about sex with my friends (and then awkward sex situations in general) and starting my period at 16 and trying to play it off as if I’d been a seasoned pro for years – it became apparent that something wasn’t right.
I felt like a failure for not knowing what to do with a guy – much like my experience with bra shopping, it felt like it should’ve been something that just installed into your brain once you hit puberty, like the latest IOS download, or your favourite Netflix show for the 18th time. My worth became nothing more than a vat of insecurities, operating as a straight poison as it began to break down my mind, and my mental health with it.
At countless times throughout my life, I sank under the pressure and power that my genitalia – and subsequently my identity as a woman – held over me; so much so, that I completely disassociated myself from them. They became foreign objects to me and by not acknowledging their existence, I was (in my head), giving myself the chance to live a life not defined by ‘being a woman’.
I didn’t know what to do, or where to turn to. I couldn’t tell my boyfriend at the time for fear that he’d be freaked out – your girlfriend freaking out about not fitting into the conventions of every other girl on the planet/she’s intimated by her own bits and tits? Adios amigo. He once made a passing comment about how he “liked it when I dressed like a girl” and to this day, I still remember the unnerving wave of nausea that came over me as I panicked, thinking “Well if he thinks this is me as a girl, what did he think I was before now? Do I need to dress like this all the time? Do other people not see me as a girl? What am I meant to look like? Who am I meant to be? Who am I?. I couldn’t tell my family, because, well how do you explain that one? Hi Mum and Dad, there’s an F on my birth certificate and boobs on my chest, but erm I don’t really know who or what Becca is?”
Feelings were suppressed and many nights spent in a state of panic, not knowing why I didn’t feel like every other girl I knew and, as you can expect, everything was starting to build up and become too much.’
So where does this leave me now? As I’m writing this post I can feel myself becoming insecure as to whether it’s been worth it and whether my ramblings about bra shopping and awkward tomboy years are going to benefit anyone; my fingers desperately clambering away to try and make sense of it all.
All I know, is that a) these feelings are out there, a part of me I used to so desperately hide is now out there plain and simple for everyone to see and b) who knows who might be out there, feeling the same as a young and despondent Becca did? It doesn’t matter that this isn’t the most articulate piece of writing I’ve ever done, or whether or not it actually makes any coherent sense – this is what #InternationalWomensDay is about. Before now, it would’ve have been a day I disregarded, not feeling like I had the right to get involved. Now, as a 22-year-old, I understand that this is exactly why it exists. If all women were the same, life would be boring.
Think about how many incredible women you know in your life, without their differences, would they still be incredible? It doesn’t matter whether you’ve been brought up to be a pink loving-Barbie doll owning gal who loves to wear short skirts and cute dresses. It doesn’t matter whether you’ve been brought up a woman of colour, someone who has not only had to face the challenges set by their gender, but also the colour of their skin. It doesn’t matter if the gender you were born with doesn’t match that of the gender you are.
Everything is valid.
Everyone is valid.
Whether you’re like me and trying to make sense of a strange ol’ childhood, or if you’ve had everything together all your life – days like this need to exist to promote these kinds of conversations, encourage
So who cares that there’s still so much more I could’ve gone into, the important thing is that a conversation has been started. I’m not saying I’m an expert on the topics by any means, just a girl trying to navigate her way through her identity – a journey that not all of us have to take, but one that undoubtedly needs to be heard.