I Stopped Becoming
I remember a moment in high school, walking toward the library, I caught my reflection in the big glass doors. I stopped. It’s as if I had never seen my whole reflection before. I was round, full, rubbing in the wrong places, soft and moldable in the middle. I was different from the other girls. My shoulders and arms were big, too, harboring strength that I didn't see to appreciate. Everything that I saw broke me, crumbled my confidence, planted the seed of self-disdain deep in my psyche. I wanted to become like all the other girls I saw in magazines, on television, in my classroom. Nothing about me was good enough as it was, I needed to become, immediately, more like everyone else around me. I started to look for ways to change, started making choices that would carry me outside and beyond myself.
Now, as a grown woman, I recall this moment when I first learned to compare myself to others. I think that I was lucky to come to this consciousness when I was in high school, much older than other girls. I credit my parents, my mom, for raising me to focus on things other than myself so I was able to grow up with invaluable innocence. But she couldn’t protect me from that reflection, showing me more than just an image of my body. That reflection showered on me all of the pressure of being a woman in a society that demands women comply. It demands that we are always becoming more woman than we are currently. It is a society of consumption and progress and comparison. I wasn’t prepared for the crushing weight of it, didn’t know that it was all constructed, because it feels so real. I didn’t tell anyone because I was afraid and ashamed and confused and full of reflective hate. I started looking around, outside myself, and saw what I didn’t have and who I wasn’t. My clothes were wrong, my hair was wrong, my personality and hobbies and interests were wrong. I changed things, bought things, acted differently, got new friends, but none of the outcomes felt right. By college, I was deep in the game and a sliver of myself. And still, I had plans and desire to become someone else more acceptable and desirable. And none of it was satisfying. And I was alone in it.
My daughter will face this same pressure, hopefully late in life after a childhood of freedom and self-love and beauty. I would change it all, but you can’t destroy the world for your children’s comfort. So, I will prepare her. She will know her reflection and be able to define herself in her own words, on her own terms. I will help her build pillars of identity and support and tell her not to be blindsided. Hopefully, she will come to me and talk with me and not feel stubbornly independent. I wish I had known to go to my mom.
The problem is BIG. It’s everywhere and it’s everyone. There’s a lot of things that I want to say to those who are selling, selling, selling all the choices, all the identities and lifestyles. The creation of this pressure is so loud. They say “this or that,” “before and after,” “more or less” in secret ways you can’t always hear. And we listen because their sales come fast; they are sly and beautiful. But the reality is that all of it is noise. Input. Static. Inauthentic. Part of me wants to thank them for laying it out for me so neatly, so clearly, so easy. I could make a choice, pick a path and become that woman. Or that woman. Or some other woman. I could say this to become that mother, try this to become that lover, do that to become that friend, that sister, that daughter, that wife. Body, face, hair, clothes, personality, actions, thoughts and emotions are all subject to rating and are upgradeable as if we’re an incomplete starter kit that require options and accessories. Buy it all, make a change and become the next improved you.
I want to be sure to say that the right to choose is a blessing and a necessity that has been hard won by women before us. But something happened to the choices. They have become commercialized, streamlined, controlled, and expected commodities. The freedom to choose should be more free and less affected. Choices aren’t freedom when you’re expected to make them.
So, to express the freedom I appreciate and love today, I want to say to those sellers and those choices and those steps to improvement that I won't be moving up or on any time soon. I choose to stop here for a moment. I'm tired. I'm weary of becoming the next great thing. I need to know, I deserve to know, what is wrong with the woman I am today? I am going to lay it down and stop becoming anyone besides who I am today. And now, I am not alone in it because I want you to join me. And I’ve talked to my mom.
In all of my reaching and dreaming and scheming, I have been ignorant, completely, of the accomplishment of the present. I have lived as many women and each has left her impression in her own way and in her own place. In the company of the ghosts of all of these women, I can't help but think that it is a great tragedy, an important injustice that we are encouraged to always see beyond and not love on the woman we are today. So, in rebellion against the preselected expected lifestyles and personalities and fashion and parenting, I am going to send this little whisper into the fray -- stop becoming anyone except who you are right here, in this miracle of a moment. Breathe it in, every imperfect, tilted, ragged second because it won't ever feel this way again.
To celebrate, I want to tell you about the woman I am tonight, in my own terms, uncontrolled by comparison. My woman is bone tired and unkempt, heavier than usual but stronger than ever, happy most of the day, bored most of the day, sad part of the day, lonely for friends, experiencing fulfilling love for her child and maturing, strengthened love for her husband. She still mourns that moment in the library reflection, and still is bothered by her roundness and weird shape. She is appreciative of the dark silence and stillness, desperately craving a new baby, desperately craving time to herself, still breastfeeding her toddler, still cosleeping with her toddler but not sleeping herself. She is failing in so many things, succeeding in many more, and over-the-moon obsessed with her daughter's hot breath on her shoulder and little soft arms wrapped around her neck. That baby touch clears away the selfish desire to be any woman except mother. For now.
And tonight, all those ghosts aren't gone. When I stop clamoring to the sales pitches, I faintly hear them singing together an old collegiate harmony that, probably, is the sound my soul will make in heaven. It’s so damn good to hear.
So please, sellers shouting all the things my way and the way of every woman, quiet down so we can make space for the millions and millions of shadowy women's voices we've pushed aside. There's so much beautiful music in these moments, it's a shame that we don't celebrate ourselves and each other. Sing it back, whisper your own rebellion. For this moment, don't become anyone else. Stay you and meditate on her. Identify her in your own way, in your own time. Remember her like you remember the smell of your newborn, or the curl of their hair, or the dimples on their hands, or the spot between their shoulders, or their sleepy, hot heads heavy on your chest. You're worth the memory. I think we're worth the memory. Ponder all the women you've been in your yesterdays, and how they have paved the way for this truly momentous you. I promise I'll try to do all of this, too.
Journalist: Shannon Sullivan Brown