This afternoon, we have a post that is honest, meaty and powerfully thought provoking, from a legendary writer, Anna K. Many of you will already know her via Any Other Woman, but if you don’t and you enjoy what you read here, go on over and check it out. It’s like medicine for the mind with refreshing, sometimes challenging and always life affirming essays from a host of intelligent and brilliant women. Thanks for sharing your story here today Anna and I’ll be looking forward to landing and reading the comments later this afternoon.
For a long time, I was undecided about what to write for my guest post for Florence Finds. I write a lot about feelings and being a woman and about people’s stories for Any Other Woman, and I wanted to take the chance to write something different, to try something new, to push myself.
So I wrote a post about makeup. But Rebecca could do it better. I wrote a post about dressing for anything above a D cup. It sounded hollow and I got bored. I’m not good at style, fashion, beauty.
Sod it, I thought. The best blog posts are the ones you have to pull out from inside of you, kicking and screaming because they don’t want to come out. I’m going to do what I do best, and tell you all a story.
A story about who we are and what we stand for irrespective of style, fashion and beauty.
It’s about me, because that’s what I know best. It’s not particularly remarkable, but it’s mine.
When I was younger I was a competitive swimmer. I trained every day and competed most weekends. It was all I knew. When I was 14 I was diagnosed with a severe form of scoliosis. I underwent major spinal surgery. This pulled me out of training for many months and subsequently ended my intended career as a competitive swimmer. I have no idea if I’d ever have made it professional; statistics say probably not, but I’ll never know.
I went from training an extortionate amount of hours every week to training not at all. And here’s the mistake I made: upon stopping training, I ate the same amount as I always had done. I ate the same because I had no concept of the amount of fuel needed to power that kind of strict training regime – I just thought everyone ate what I did. I whacked on stones and stones of weight and the consequences of that weight gain defined me and who I was for the next seven years of my life.
How I looked overshadowed who I was and what I stood for. It influenced the decisions I made, the places I went, the people I loved. I looked at other women in the park ,on the tube, in work, and I compared myself to them. I avoided places with mirrors. I dressed in black, to blend in. I carefully orchestrated a social life that avoided any attention on my body.
I developed the strongest of the strong political stances because no-one would think about how I looked if I could capture their attention in another way; with my mind, with my beliefs, with my convictions.
I thought constantly about what it would be like to be thinner. It’s so hard to describe what that crippling obsession is like if you’re one of the lucky ones, who doesn’t live with this particular demon. You live for an impossible dream and it dissolves all that you are inside but you don’t know it. Next week I’ll stop eating junk food. Next week I’ll be a better person. People will love me more if I’m thinner, once I’m more beautiful.
People will know I’m not lazy if I could just lose weight.
You get sucked into a cycle of feeling like crap about how you look so you eat to make yourself feel better and then you look even worse so you eat more and it’s a never-ending spin cycle which mangles up your self-esteem and hell, even your sense of self, and spits it out into the utility room floor, unrecognisable.
When I was 22 I lost (most of) the weight. Over the subsequent years I reached the stage where I could get through the day without thinking about my body and what everyone else thought of it. It was joyous. Still is. I still count myself lucky that I climbed out of that spin cycle relatively unscathed.
But the point of this post is not to talk about body hang-ups. We’ve talked about this previously on Florence Finds, and we’ve said what we can. It’s to point out my real regret of this whole situation. This is what my subconscious whispers in my ear when I’m feeling down, when I’ve had a bad day, when things look bleak. Just think, it says, just think what you could have achieved in those seven years, if you hadn’t been thinking about what you look like.
You could have written a novel.
You could have travelled the world.
You could have been someone, someone who changed the world, rather than someone who hid in the shadows because you believed beauty was a judgement upon women.
The sheer time, effort and blind commitment that went into caring what I looked like breaks my heart.
And this is the crux of the matter, isn’t it. We are so, so lucky. We are, and I mean this in all sincerity, phenomenally talented woman with opportunities of which those that came before us simply could never have dreamed. We forget what mountains we could climb if we just tried, if we just ignored the everyday noise and our inner critical voice.
That voice is there, it whispers in your ear every day. You can be the most savvy, together, self-confident woman in the world and the whisper may be more hushed, but it’s still there. It’s fed every day by images of impossible beauty and stories of women who achieved so much more than you did, are doing, could ever do.
And it stops us. It stops us achieving greatness. It tells us we can’t, we won’t. It says “never”. And we listen.
This is a call to silence that critical voice. Why should we listen to it?
Isn’t life hard enough? Isn’t it hard enough to find beauty without that voice on our shoulder chipping away at our sense of self? That voice isn’t in our blood, under our skin, in our DNA. It is not part of us. We choose to listen to it. We make that choice.
You may not be able to drown out the voice completely, but you Can refuse to listen.
You can choose how you spend your time. You can waste the one life you have criticising yourself, and worrying about how you look or are or should be.
Or you could change the world. Your world, the world of those around you.
Take a deep breath. You are the most phenomenal human being. Rip it up. Let it go. Be proud. Strive further. Live harder.
Don’t let what you could be drown out who you are.
Going back to my original point. Clothes, makeup, beauty. It’s all meaningless if you don’t genuinely, truly believe you have the power to change yourself, each other, your world.
You do. You can. Make that choice. Who’s with me?