How I Learned To Be A Woman....Wait, Nevermind.
Clearly, there are so many ways to be a woman. We no longer have to fit into traditional stereotypes of dresses and frailty and helplessness (unless we want to, which is totally fine). The idea of what is female has become increasingly nuanced, granting each of us the freedom to define womanhood on our own terms. Thankfully for us, all of the women and men that are out there have different and interesting and complex tastes, and so, we can all find our significant other, our tribe, our supporters while still remaining true to ourselves.
Complexity noted, womanhood to me means to be caring. We are nurturers in my viewpoint. It means caring for others, of course, but it also means caring for yourself. And for my whole life I really have not chosen to care much for myself and I’m learning this has been because I really didn’t think I deserved my own attention. I didn’t like myself all that much. I’ve been changing that in 2018, in my 30th year of life, and have been doing a lot of reading and research, trying to find the “secret” to liking myself. Of course, in this venture, I came across Brené Brown. In her own words, she is a researcher and storyteller; in my words, she is a see-er into the inner workings of the soul.
In her most recent book, Braving the Wilderness, Brené Brown shared a story from her marriage when it was brand new. She recounted how she had shared with a therapist her fears that the marriage might not work out, and the therapist shockingly agreed: “It may not. He likes you way more than you like you.” A problematic position for Brené to be in. And a tiresome one as well. See, when your self-worth is determined by someone liking you, you continuously have to change who you are to fit the situation. Exhausting, yes, but also close to impossible. It’s impossibility means - guess what? - your self-worth will always be shit.
At 30 years old, I’m kind of starting to like myself. At least, I’m beginning the process of accepting myself. I know that each moment I spend not in acceptance of myself is a moment in life that I’ve not fully taken advantage of; it is an opportunity for joy, voluntarily forfeited. I also, as a believer in a God who created me and is proud of who he made me to be, know in my head that not liking myself is questioning, even challenging, His judgement. It’s an insult to His infinite wisdom. But this process of acceptance is also a process of self-discovery. It’s a journey, far from being as simple as flipping a switch.
I’ve adapted to my surroundings for so long in order to be liked and accepted by others, that I never really figured out what I actually like, enjoy, or even what I am really good at. As Gretchen Rubin speaks of in her book The Happiness Project, I was consistently in search of a “gold star” from everyone I met. Even in taking my hair down out of a bun on the top of my head, my simple thought process is not, “Oh I want to take my hair out of this bun”, it’s, “I should take my hair out of this bun to look more professional, or like a model, or look like whatever it is that these people want to see.”
It’s true what they say: “Stand for something or else you’ll fall for anything.” And I fall for every expectation that I assume is aimed at me. Standing for something - for myself and what I believe in - inherently invites criticism and criticism has never been something I’ve handled well. Opening yourself up to that is what Brené Brown calls entering “the wildnerness”. But my fear of criticism spans from the deep level she refers to (like standing up for someone who cannot defend themselves) to the incredibly simple minutiae of everyday life. I never wanted to wear makeup for fear of someone thinking I was high maintenance. I never wanted to put too much effort into the way I dressed for fear of someone thinking I was superficial. And now, I hesitate to write out my thoughts for the universe to read for fear of...everything. It feels like everything I do is in response to a fear, which really is not a way to live. And frankly, without even an awareness that that is what I’ve been doing, I realized I was tired of doing it.
My research next brought me to Marianne Williamson, in conversation with Oprah, about Williamson’s book Return to Love. Marianne says there is only two emotions: love and fear. She says that the thought system of the human race is and has been dominated by fear for ages. Further, she notes that “enlightenment” - a word whose meaning might be up for debate amongst some - is an “unlearning of the thought system based on fear, and an acceptance instead of a thought system based on love.” Unlearning something we’ve based not only our own lives on, but something that generations and generations before us have done the same with, is not just a process. It’s a fight. It’s a battle between what we have been and what we know we should be.
I came across this concept of the battle within when I read a piece that Michael Patanella wrote for Medium where he stated that “The strongest type of battles we face, are the ones against ourselves.” I somehow can’t find this post again, but that really resonated with me because in a battle, there is inherently a winner and a loser, right? Well, when it’s a battle against ourselves, we are set up to lose either way. In this piece he was referring to addiction, but I think addiction is a far more complex subject than just drugs/alcohol/sex. I think we can absolutely be addicted to pleasing people and lose ourselves in a different way but in the same sense as a heroin addict loses themselves.
Addiction essentially means that our priorities are out of alignment.
We are addicted to this one thing and we put it above all other things, no matter how harmful that action is to us or to the people around us. Patanella utilizes this quote: “Addiction stripped us of whatever direction we had.” What an interesting thought. Basically, the direction God had planned out for me, utilizing all of the opportunity he had blessed me with, was derailed because I placed my addiction to pleasing others higher than my desire to become the best version of who God made me to be, which is to be love. If you want to take this to a biblical place, I made people-pleasing my idol, my golden calf. Thankfully, I believe the following is also true: “A person often meets his destiny on the road he took to avoid it.” - Jean De La Fontaine
So there is still hope. There is always hope.
It seems we most often think of “being love” as “loving others”, but when we realize this personality of ours, this earthly thing that we embody has been shaped by genetics and experience, is not actually us, we realize that it is our duty to love that person too. Just how they are.
This post started out as a “How I Learned to Be a Woman at 30 Years Old.” Thank God I’m discovering that the true meaning of being a woman just means learning to accept and love who I was made to be - truly unique, just like you are truly unique, for a reason. Thankfully, this post turned into, “How I Began the Journey of Learning to Love Myself.” I can’t wait to learn more.