To celebrate publication of Florence Given’s groundbreaking debut book, we are sharing here an exclusive preview from the inimitable Women Don’t Owe You Pretty. Enjoy!
Most of the time, “self-love” and “self-care” are sold in a way that just
further perpetuates the need for women to be constantly desirable
and palatable. Treat yourself! Buy this face mask! Pamper this! Pamper that!
Shave your legs! Moisturize them! We’re not trying to sell you anything – this is
about you! It’s self-care! I don’t know about you, but years of internalizing
the messages about how women’s bodies should look and the rigorous
standards they’re held to made me feel as though my body didn’t belong
to me – this cannot be eradicated by a stranger placing hot stones on my
back. This kind of “self-love” takes me right back to square one – valuing
myself based on the desirability of my face and body. While making
myself up and feeling cute does bring me joy, it’s only a temporary fix.
It’s instant short-term validation. It’s a distraction.
I haven’t learnt to love myself through a spa treatment, body wax or
facial. Oh no. In fact, the journey started when, at 14, I lay in the middle
of the busy park that all the girls from my school frequented, and tried my
hardest not to give a shit what any of them thought of me. I told myself
that if I could lie there and listen to one song, without caring what anyone
thought, I could do literally anything. This was a big moment. My biggest
fear was being judged by others and I needed to conquer it. I was in an
emotionally abusive co-dependent friendship with a girl who later isolated
me from our entire friendship group aft er hearing rumours about my
eating disorder. I had a lot of social anxiety. I feared looking like “a loner”.
I feared having to discover who I was, outside of serving someone else’s
needs – because the truth was I had no idea. But because I’d been exiled
from their friendship group, I was left with no choice but to fi nd out.
So, lying in that park alone scared me, but it also unshackled me from
living a life restricted by other people’s perceptions. It’s not their bullying
that “made me the person I am today”, but my own resilience that enabled
me to adapt. I had stepped out of my comfort zone, and entered the world
of living. I had a taste of what my life could look like if I truly denounced the
need to be liked. If I hadn’t made the decision to lie in that park, I wouldn’t
be writing this book today, because I wouldn’t have found the courage to
unapologetically voice my opinions. The ability to do so was born in that
moment. Full stop.
Think about something you wish you could do. What is it that’s stopping
you from pursuing it? Do you hate the thought of being alone in public, or
is it the perception you imagine other people have about you being alone?
It sure was the latt er for me. The idea of being out on my own? Bliss. The
idea of people seeing me out on my own? Hell. I revelled in my alone time,
but I was afraid of being judged by others for being on my own.
It’s the same principle with my body hair. I’d been shaving it religiously
for years, only to realize that the sight of it wasn’t making me feel
uncomfortable, it was the thought of making others feel uncomfortable if
they saw it. My fear of others’ opinions on the hair that grows naturally out of
my body (just as men’s hair, which society deems socially acceptable, does)
made me take a razor blade to my armpit and leg hair every single week.
Making these autonomous decisions is tricky because it means breaking
life-long habits. It can be further complicated by your identity intersections
in society, and by your class privilege, ability privilege, sexuality privilege,
race privilege, cisgender privilege, etc. Our lives as women are already
so restricted in terms of what we can and can’t do because of the safety
measures we’re forced to take – living our lives constantly vigilant and
compromising our comfort for our safety in public – so why should we
self-impose further limitations around what we can and can’t do?
The truth is that no one is ever looking at you and thinking “what
the hell are they doing on their own?”. Most of the time the things we
are insecure about aren’t about our dislike towards them, but what we
think others will think when they see us. But no one actually cares because
they are wrapped up in their own dialogue. If you’ve never done it before,
promise me you will take yourself on a date. Don’t take your laptop, don’t
use your phone, go completely and entirely alone with no other purpose
than to simply eat, drink and watch the world go by. Life is far too short to
be waiting around for someone to ask you. You are the love of your own
life, so act accordingly and take your damn self out.
Read more in Florence Given’s bestselling Women Don’t Owe You Pretty