Hello friends, it’s been a minute. Things are looking up in Toronto, and as I write this it is currently a whopping 18 degrees outside! It’s also just a couple of days after International Women’s Day… which also makes this week two years since my journey with chronic illness began. What a week, eh? So to mark the occasion, I’m sifting through some thoughts I’ve had on womanhood and on healing. To spice it up a bit, I’ll leave little gems made by a few of the female artists who inspire me most.
I believe in anniversaries. That a mood can be repeated even if the event that caused it is trivial or forgotten. In this case it’s neither.
(Crave is one of my favourite pieces of writing, by the way; an incredibly powerful play. I studied it in my final year of sixth form and have been haunted ever since).
My experience of extraordinary women began long before my birth, with the women who came before me. I was raised like a new leaf on an already almighty tree; women who conquered gently, who nurtured fiercely, who were frightened just as often as they were brave and vulnerable just as often as they were strong.
I come from a legacy of women who were trailblazers, who shattered glass ceilings. My mother first and foremost, but the branches reach much further than her.
It does not end there.
I believe in “it takes a village”. I also believe that we continue to raise each other long into adulthood. The women in the periphery of my childhood mothered me in many small, powerful ways, from the teacher who introduced me to feminism to the family friend who advised me against trying cocaine (I wasn’t going to). From the girls at school, the ones I worked with in Waitrose who advised me over boy woes, to the girls at David’s Tea who did the same (so many boy woes! Good grief.)
…the ladies at Lush who taught me so much about self-love and loving the world, my incredible boss Courtney who founded Team Awesome and all the eAmbassador ladies… the list goes on. I wish I had the time and the courage to tell all the women I love and admire how I feel about them individually, but that would be a whole series of books of me gushing over everyone I’ve ever met, basically.
I’ve always had friends from all age groups. One of my most important friends is in her 40s. A lot of the most important female friends I’ve had aren’t my age, in fact. For an eldest child who always wished for lots of sisters, I’m incredibly lucky to have found them floating around outside my gene pool.
Recently I’ve been reflecting on this question: what have I learned about womanhood?
My life changed so drastically since starting my degree, and my obstacles have shaped me in ways I could never have imagined. I’ve learned in the last two years that a woman expressing that she is in pain is rarely taken seriously. For someone like me, with a high pain threshold, who at 3 years old barely flinched at a burst eardrum, this was a difficult lesson to learn.
I’ve learned that a woman asking for what she deserves is rarely taken seriously. For me, honest and sincere to the bone, never wanting to ask for too much, this was a painful lesson to learn. I’ve learned that a woman who will not jump through hoops to please a man was better off without him anyway.
I’ve learned that my body can and will change as seamlessly as the tides. For someone like me, like many of us, who has always apologised for the space I occupy, this lesson was possibly the hardest to swallow. I have learned, however, that my teenage body was much more beautiful than I ever gave it credit for, and that its health was the most beautiful thing about it.
I’ve learned that it really doesn’t matter when it changes, as long as I am healthy. I’ve learned that beauty is nice, but it’s really not important. I’ve learned to reconcile my body’s betrayal. I spent so long being angry that I spent every day in pain, sometimes not able to walk down the street alone or carry my laundry to the washing machine. I hated my body for turning against me, but it’s been through a lot, too. We have to look after each other, it and I. After all, it’s the only home that will last my whole life.
I’ve learned a lot about women by becoming one. I’ve learned that we are much kinder to others than we are to ourselves. I’ve learned that we are incredibly resilient. It makes me so uncomfortable when people hear my health-related stories and call me “inspirational” because really, there is nothing to do but get on with it. There’s no other option but to keep going- and trust me, if you could see me on my bad days, you’d know that there’s no inspiration to be had here. Like, trust me pals, I’m a mess 89% of the time. Exhibit A:
Ultimately, what I know is this: it could be so much worse. I am so fortunate in so many ways; I live in a country that affords me so much freedom, I have a family that loves me, my health issues are not dangerous and I’m getting an education. There are so many women whose situations are much more difficult for no reason other than luck of the draw. So instead of moaning about how I’m still covered in itchy, gross-looking, painful hives nearly two months later, or how I may never have an official diagnosis for my chronic pain, I’ll be grateful for how blessed I am. I’ve got my ladies cheering me on. It’s all good. As Florence Welch says oh so wisely, I’m gonna be free and I’m gonna be fine.