I am a sensitive soul. My grandmother and mother have remarked on it for as long as I can remember, naturally in hushed undertones that sound something along the lines of, "Gosh, she can be fragile," "Shhh, she'll hear you and you'll set her off!"
But it's true. I am a bundled of paradoxes, thin-skinned and tenuous to somewhat fiery and concentrated. And if that's not exertion enough, I have sensitive teeth too. The other day, whilst casually bending over to retrieve a new tube of Sensodyne Tooth Paste, "clinically proven to relieve the pain of sensitive teeth", I was also treated to a friendly pat on the bottom by a self-assured stranger passing by. There's nothing clinically proven to remedy that.
I couldn't believe it! The cheek of him—pun intended! If he thought he could cop a feel of Gemma Taylor and not cop something else, he was sorely mistaken. As I whipped around ready to employ the use of my more ardent self, I was met with a pert smile and the thumbs up as he walked on by. Mystified, to this day I genuinely think he thought that in laying his hands on me in appreciation of the goods, he was bestowing on me some sort of accolade as a woman.
Something's gotta give - and maybe it's my size ten jeans
I understand that this is an extreme case and that perhaps in some covert, warped way; I may have been flattered by the attention my bottom brought me. But that's the problem! If the resounding idea is accepted that to be worthwhile as a woman is equated to matching ourselves up to the ideals of others, then something has gone horribly wrong. And I am as much to blame as the dirty feeler of aisle eight.
As a woman of 25, I am acutely aware of the rules of 'Lady-ville' and of my short comings in regards to them... I need to be pretty and thin but still be able to eat cake and not become self absorbed by my appearance, I need to be attractive and available to the opposite sex but not too forward as to avoid appearing as intimidating, I need to be noticed and liked but not update my status too much or heavens above be labelled a 'social climber', and oh yes, I need to encompass just the right amount of independence but definitely not transpire as a loner.
In my attempts to be everything to everyone, I further ensnare myself in the sticky web of "never good enough" and "stay small". David Riddell says "If we give others the power to determine our self worth, then others can take it away". The Bible says, "Beauty is fleeting." But Cleo says, "Lose that tummy flab in six easy steps" and low and behold we're off on another fad diet in pursuit of sexier stomachs and elongated obliques.
Look perfect but don't work for it
I don't know about you ladies, but I am tired of struggling to correspond with the forever shifting goal posts of 'acceptably feminine' and living compatibly with the conflicting expectations of 'effortlessly pretty'. I've had it up to my mascara smeared eyeballs with being seen as an accessory, a prize, a damsel in need of rescue. And as uncomfortable as I am right now at running the risk of appearing 'too dominant' and therefore masculine, I am resisting the urge to stay small, sweet and surrendered!
I have tried hard to stifle my overly sensitive tendencies, tried my best to appear without needs and God truly knows how much I have fought against my fiery strong spirit but each time I fail to consistently front as the 'ideal woman' who is nice, resourceful and composed, I am riddled with a shame that robs me of my sense of self and holds me captive in my inadequacies.
And the tragedy is this, the perfect woman or person for that matter, is an illusion. An unobtainable ideal that feeds into our culture of scarcity and leaves woman feeling meagre while men feel disenchanted by the humanness of their less than idyllic lady friends. The more I endeavour to conceal who I really I am, the more I give others the permission to assess and define my value. Thus continuing the equation of 'be good + look good = to feel good'.
When true belonging transpires, we allow our imperfect selves to be fully seen, when we revel in our defective selves, the cycle stops and we celebrate what we are as opposed to what we are not.
It's hard to accept yourself as someone you don't desire...
It is hard to wave the flag of embrace your brokenness and flaws in a society that says 'have it all together and look good doing it', it is hard to champion vulnerability in a culture that dissuades weakness and mistakes vulnerability as incompetence, it is hard to challenge the idea of what it means to be beautiful as a woman when the media is busy pumping us full of images in which to compare ourselves to.
But we must wave the flag, we must champion vulnerability and we must challenge the idea of what it means to be beautiful if we are ever going to find the freedom we need to embrace our brilliance and be our true selves, without watering it down to appease societal pressure and norms.
And I suffer under it too. Once, when riddled with insecurity I spent $5,000 correcting my slightly crooked teeth in order to acquire only the finest of Colgate smiles and right now as I write this article, there is a deep fear seething in me that I will be labelled as a radical and no man will ever dare pat my bum again.
And I do want to be found beautiful but not just because I have a banging body and a kicker of a smile. I want to be found beautiful because I can be both soft and strong while asserting my ideas, because I am unafraid to be my own biggest fan while advocate for the acceptance of others and because I know I am flawed and powerless yet brave enough to acknowledge that in spite of my insufficiencies, I am good enough.
Where to from here
In Margery Williams' The Velveteen Rabbit, she perfectly encapsulates the beauty of being known.
"Real isn't how you are made", said the Skin Horse. "It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but really loves you, then you become Real... It doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't often happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out, and you get loose joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real, you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand."
May the grace of God keep you, as you endeavour to keep it Real.
Gemma Taylor despite constant scorn and painful jokes is proudly from the Waikato; although she is presently living in Auckland with her fingers in many pies. She is inspired by truth, creativity and connection. Gemma writes for buoyancy and hopes to one day live wholly by the ideas that she writes of.
Gemma Taylor previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/gemma-taylor.html