How Mummy shaming hurts us all.

I got shamed at the gym a few weeks ago.  Not Body shamed or Fat shamed. I got Mummy shamed.  After class, I was chatting with a group of women I work out with, and I admitted that I almost hadn’t made it to yoga class that day because I was feeling so exhausted.  One of my workout buddies exclaimed, “Ness, until you have kids, you don’t know what it means to be tired”.  The others nodded in agreement and I felt, well, shitty about myself.  And then on the walk home that shitty feeling broke up into shame, anger and frustration.

 

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Now it’s true that I don’t have kids, and I don’t know what it’s like to be a mother.  Raising children is a task that is impossible for me to even imagine.  I can’t really fathom how tiring it is or how challenging it can be, and I’m not here to suggest that motherhood is anything other than trying and difficult (and probably also ultimately rewarding).

 

But here’s the thing: in spite of me not having spawned a brood of offspring, I definitely know what it means to be tired.  I work full time.  I live on my own and run my own household.  I support myself financially.  I deal with chronic mental illness.  I keep up family and social obligations and occasionally do some dating.  I’m busy, I’m challenged and at times I’m fucking exhausted.  I know all too well what it feels like to be tired.

 

Thinking back to that day at the gym, I recall how small I felt.  I’d admitted to this group of women that I’d struggled to get to the gym that day, that I was struggling in general, and instead of being met with support and encouragement, I was made to feel shame.  Like my efforts were less than theirs because I’m not a mother.  Like my tiredness wasn’t as important as theirs because I don’t have a family at home to take care of.

 

This isn’t the only time I’ve ever been Mummy shamed.  In fact, it’s happened to me a whole bunch of times.  And in each instance I’ve felt invalidated and unimportant. Looked down upon for my choice not to bring children in this world.  And that really sucks.

 

Here’s a big truth: every single person you meet is fighting the battle that is life.  And they’re fighting it in their own way.  We each have a unique set of hurdles and struggles, and to each person those struggles feel entirely real and sometimes overwhelming.  From the outside, an observer might think that any given individual’s burdens are simpler and lighter than their own.  But to the person carrying them they are heavy and complex.

 

Mummy shaming hurts.  It hurts the person being shamed and it hurts the person doing the shaming.  It adds fuel to the flaming idea that a woman’s life isn’t complete until she’s had children.  It invalidates the choices of those who decide that kids aren’t for them.  It dampens the ecstatic notion that a woman can choose a life that suits her, rather than just being what she’s “supposed” to be.  It perpetuates the idea that women need to be snarky and competitive to each other, rather than being supportive and compassionate.  It creates situations where we aren’t comfortable asking for help, or speaking out when we are struggling for fear of being stamped down or made to feel unworthy of the help we need.  And it creates a further divide between those who have chosen to have a family and those who have not.

 

We’re all struggling.  We’re all tired.  And every person’s struggle is real.  Every person is deserving of a kind ear and an encouraging word.  So let’s do away with shaming and just give the support and kindness that we can.  If a person says “I’m really worn out” you can offer your support.  And then if you need to, you can say “I’m worn out too” and tell them about your struggles and get the support you need.  If we all give that kindness and support and stop shaming, the world can be a much better place.

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That time I participated in cultural appropriation…

Last week I was looking back over some photos from my time at college when I noticed a picture that made me stop in my tracks.  The picture was taken at a costume party in my second year at university.  For this particular occasion I was dressed as a geisha.  I’d swept my hair up into a smooth top-knot, I was wearing a satiny kimono-style robe and I’d applied white powder and overdrawn red lipstick.  The picture made me want to hang my head with shame.  Because in that moment I realised that I’d taken part in cultural appropriation when I chose to dress that way.

 

Cultural appropriation is an important topic, and something that I think about on a regular basis.  In case you’re unsure what I mean when I use the phrase “cultural appropriation”, here is a great article that explains it pretty well. But essentially cultural appropriation is “when somebody adopts aspects of a culture that is not their own”.  It is particularly prudent when the cultural aspects have religious or deep cultural significance, and/or when the person taking the cultural aspect is from a racial group which has a history of oppressing the group the culture is being taken from.

 

I mentioned that I think about cultural appropriation on a regular basis, and this is most often in context of the things I wear.  I love to express myself through fashion and there are a number of items in my closet which have been inspired by other cultures.  I even have items which have been given as gifts from friends overseas which have come from other countries, and which I now wear.  Whether or not me wearing these items counts as cultural appropriation is a muddy debate (and one which I’ve grappled with many times in my own mind).  But I am certain that my geisha costume was a definite example of cultural appropriation.

 

Now, when I first saw the photo, I tried to rationalize my behaviour.  I thought about my interest in geisha culture and how much reading and research I’ve done about the history of geisha and their practices.  I thought “well, perhaps the fact that I’m interested in geisha and that I know a lot about them makes it OK to dress as a geisha.  Maybe my costume was more of an homage to a culture I respect rather than an appropriation”.

 

But I still consider it to be an appropriation.  The clothing, hairstyle and makeup worn by a geisha is special.  It’s not something that just anyone gets to wear.  A woman has to go through years of difficult training before she is worthy to wear the geisha makeup or hairstyles.  Different geisha hairstyles have different meanings, and in some cases a geisha has to satisfy certain criteria before she is permitted to wear her hair a particular way.  I have undergone no such training, and although I am interested in this culture it is not MY culture.  I have not earned the right to dress like a geisha, and it was wrong of me to do so.

 

In contrast, I think about a time when I wore a kimono that I do not consider to be an appropriation.  Many years ago I visited the Immigration Museum in Melbourne and was treated to an exhibit led by two women from Japan.  At the end of the tour they showed us a number of traditional Japanese garments including kimono, and I was invited to come and try one on.  I don’t think of this experience as an appropriation for a number of reasons.  Firstly, I was invited by a member of the culture to wear the item.  Secondly, kimono are not generally an item that carries a certain status in that you don’t have to be of a particular class or hold a certain job or title to wear one. In this instance, I was not taking an item of special cultural significance, I was experiencing an aspect of a culture by invitation of two members of that culture.

 

I believe that cultural appropriation is something that’s important to think about, particularly in the context of fashion. There are a number of items that I have stopped wearing altogether because I am aware that they have particular cultural significance.  For example, I used to wear bindis on a regular basis and now I will not wear them at all.  While I don’t think that there is a need to completely cut out the wearing of anything that has come from another culture, I think it’s extremely important to consider the significance and history of those items and truly consider whether it’s appropriate to wear them.

 

So although I still wear items that have been inspired by other cultures, or even some clothes which have come directly from other cultures, I am much savvier about what I choose to wear.  I will not make the mistake of using another culture as a costume, and although I’m ashamed that i have done so in the past, I think it’s important to talk about it.  Because I believe that you have to own up to your mistakes in order to learn and move forward.  And I think I’ve come a long way since that night I donned a geisha costume, and I’d like to move even further towards being a person who is more compassionate and open, particularly when it comes to culture.

 

Have you participated in cultural appropriation?  Is it something that you think about when choosing what you wear?

Peer pressure and my uterus…

Peer pressure is something that’s been on my mind lately.  When I hear the phrase “peer pressure” I instantly think of teenagers being bullied by their mates into shoplifting or experimenting with alcohol.  When I was in school, that’s what I thought peer pressure was.  I recall being made to watch countless videos of unfortunate teens who desperately wanted to fit in so they caved to their friends’ coercion and took a drag from the proffered cigarette/downed a swig from a communal bottle of booze/ nicked an eyeliner from the chemist.  (Ultimately getting caught and reflecting on how they should have listened to their gut instead of their bonehead mates).

 

But peer pressure isn’t just something that affects teens.  As I near my thirties I’ve noticed a different kind of peer pressure creeping into my life.  Only this time it isn’t booze and cigarettes that are being pushed onto me, it’s babies.

 

Now, I’m pretty darn sure that I don’t want kids.  I have nothing against children per se, but they have never really been a part of my plan.  Motherhood just doesn’t appeal to me and I’m OK with that.   There are enough people procreating that I’m confident that the universe won’t implode if I decide not to add my spawn to the gene pool.   But lately I’ve been feeling a lot of pressure around the topic of children and motherhood.

 

The first one to jump on the Baby Pressure Bandwagon was my mother.  She has two sisters who each have an adorable brood of grandchildren and I think Mum’s eager to join them in their photo-and-story-sharing sessions.  And in order for her join the Grandma Club I have to squeeze out a baby.  And when she found out that I had no intention of doing that, ever, she seems to have made it her personal mission to change my mind.

 

Like those peer pressure vids from high school, it started with some casual needling.  A few questions here and there to feel out my position.  “You’re so great with babies, don’t you think you’ll make a wonderful mother?”  “So-and-so named their baby Sunflower,  which I think is really cute.  What baby names do you like?”  and so forth.  Then when my answers proved maddeningly obtuse, she started with a more direct line of questioning.  “When do you think you’ll have kids?” became her catch-cry.

 

Once I made it clear that I didn’t intend to reproduce, she took it upon herself to convince me.  She will jump at any opportunity to remind me that kids are great, and being a mother is awesome, and when you have kids you get to do all kinds of fun things like play in sandpits and have play-doh in the house again.  Any time she sees me holding one of my friends’ kids she will give me a little knowing nod and make a point to tell me how great I am with kids, as though to reinforce my maternal behaviours.

 

At this point it was easy to shrug these things off as a bit of silliness from my baby-crazy mother.  But then the balance shifted when many of my friends started to join The Motherhood, rolling down the streets with their strollers and colourful collection of Peppa Pig toys.  All of a sudden, the pressure wasn’t just coming from my mother, it was everywhere.  Friends who had never batted an eyelid at my childlessness before started to inquire when I’d start my own family.  And then the tension began to mount.

 

What started as a bit of casual questioning took on a distinctly disdainful air.  Whenever I’d mention that I don’t want to have kids, inevitably there would be someone who would roll their eyes and say “You’ll change your mind”.  My decision to remain childless has been met with people asking if I hate children, or questioning whether I’m vain and selfish and don’t want to devote my time to another.  My mother has begun rattling off lists of people I went to school with who have had children, and I’m starting to feel that same old high school pressure “Everyone else is doing it, why not you?”.

 

In the face of this adult peer pressure, I’ve decided to console myself with the very same advice that those videos preached so many years ago: to listen to your gut and do the right thing.  The truth is I like kids.  A lot.  They can be hilarious and a source of great joy.  And I’m good with kids.  But I am also good at handing them back to their parents when a tantrum kicks in.  As much as I enjoy them, I don’t have any desire to have kids of my own.  I’m perfectly content being Aunty Ness to all my friends kids.  That’s what’s right for me, and just because everyone else seems to be having babies doesn’t mean I need to have one too.

 

Have you felt peer pressure as an adult?  What have you felt pressured to do?

Making some ethical changes to my wardrobe.

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about my clothes-shopping habits and I’ve begun making a few changes to the way I buy clothes.

A couple of years ago I read a sensational book called To Die For: is fashion wearing out the world? by Lucy Seigel.  The book talks a lot about the social and environmental impact of fast fashion.   It opened my eyes to a whole lot of issues that I’d never been aware of before.

I recently read The 100 Things Challenge by Dave Bruno.  Once again, I found this book to be a real eye-opener about consumerism and our drive to acquire new things.

DSCF9157I’d really like to change the way I shop in order to reflect my personal ethics.  In particular, I don’t want to buy mindlessly.  I really want to put more effort into considering my purchases to make sure that my money goes to businesses that support my beliefs.

There are a few things that concern me about my current shopping habits:

– Firstly, a lot of the clothing I buy comes from retailers that produce clothing overseas in countries with less-than-stellar labour laws.  A lot of this clothing is produced in sweatshops or by home workers who are forced to work in dangerous and degrading conditions.

– I buy a lot of clothing without thinking about where it’s come from and the impact of producing it.  I’d like to start choosing more clothes that are made using more environmentally sustainable practices.

– I tend to shop for price rather than quality.  I find it easy to be drawn into buying something simply because it’s cheap.

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So, what can I do about it?  I’ve come up with a few ideas:

– Buy less.  I have more than enough clothes hanging in my wardrobe right now.  I really don’t need to buy as much as I do.  I’d like to start reducing the amount of clothing that I’m purchasing.

– Buy more second hand.  This is an easy one for me, because I love thrift shopping.  It’s a great way to recycle items that are already out in the world and support charities that run the op-shops.

– Buy better quality items.  I’m going to try to save up to buy better quality items that will last longer and won’t have to be replaced as frequently.

– Choose Australian made items.  I’d prefer to buy items that are made in Australia because I know that workers here are protected by our labour laws.  However, this one is hard to do, because most clothing that is sold in Australia isn’t actually made in Australia.

– Make more things for myself.

– Mend and make do.  Rather than replacing items when they fall apart or break, I should attempt to fix them.

– Upcycle.  With items that are worn out and can’t be repaired, I’d like to try to use them to make something else.  I’ve been brainstorming lately and I’ve come up with a bunch of awesome things to make out of my worn-out tee shirts and linens.

– Buy from independent retailers.  As a small business owner, I feel that I have a duty to support other small businesses.  Even though I have a pretty small budget for spending money, I like to pour as much of it as possible into independent retailers.  I’m trying to buy many items from etsy sellers and small retailers that make their own stock.  This way, I’m ensuring that my clothes have an ethical background and I’m supporting a small business owner.

– Look for environmentally sustainable fabrics.  This can be very tricky, but I’m trying hard to look for clothes that are made from organic cotton and wool, bamboo fabric, hemp and recycled materials.

Although I understand that I’m not always going to be able to stick to these changes, and I’m sure to slip up occasionally, I really want to make an effort to change the way I shop and pour my hard-earned cash into businesses that are doing the right thing.

Do your shopping practices reflect your ethics?   Are there any changes you’d like to make to your shopping habits and your wardrobe?

Thoughts on moving

I’m now officially moved into my little flat.  Although all of my things are here, it still doesn’t quite feel like home yet.

I did not want to leave my house on the other side of town.  I loved that place.  I’d worked so hard to make that house a home, and I was very settled there.  When I’m going through a tough time I have a tendency to retreat into my shell.  I’m a real homebody and my home is my sanctuary.  The thought of leaving the house that was so familiar and comfortable was almost too much to bear.

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Not to mention the fact that that house was the home that I’d shared with Ross.  Living there after he left me was a double-edged sword.  On the one hand it was incredibly difficult.  Every nook and cranny of the place reminded me of him.  There were memories seeped into the very walls, and sometimes it felt as though I was living in a haunted house.  There was actually one particularly low night when I contemplated trashing the place, so angry was I at the demise of my treasured relationship.  On the other hand, living in the house made me feel somehow closer to Ross.  Even though he wasn’t physically there, most of his things were.  When I missed him I could go to the closet, open it and inhale the scent of his shirts.  I could go and sit in the room where he keeps his comic books and just soak in the him-ness of the place.  I feel a bit pathetic admitting to that, but it’s the truth.

So you can see why leaving was so very difficult.  I had taken such pains to make that place a home, and when I’d moved in it was with the intention that I would live there for many, many years.  It was heartbreaking to have to dismantle the sanctuary I’d build for Ross and I, knowing that I was heading out into the world on my own.

This week has marked a lot of firsts for me.  This was the first time I’ve ever moved to a new place without Ross helping to settle me in.  Each time I’ve travelled to a new home, whether it was to my new college room or the share house I lived in, it was Ross’s car that took me there.  This also marks the first time that I’ve lived entirely on my own.  I’ve always lived with family, or housemates or Ross.  It’s daunting to live completely on your own, but it’s a bit exciting too.

For the first few days I was on a complete high.  The idea of being able to set up my new flat exactly how I wanted was intoxicating.  I let my imagination run wild.  In a fit of inspiration, I leaped out of bed at two in the morning on my first night here to shift the furniture in my bedroom.  I loved the fact that I could do that without any fear of waking anyone up, or upsetting anybody.  I didn’t have to check with anyone before I claimed a cupboard or drawer.  I could burn candles and incense whenever I liked.  At mealtimes I was free to choose any new recipe I dared to try.  I set the table with my best china and drank $4 wine out of the crystal goblets I got for my 21st.  I was like a little kid who had been left alone in the house while her parents were away for the evening.  There was a pure, childish joy in being alone.  My introverted, homebody self was in heaven.

But on the fourth day it came crashing down around me.  The novelty wore off and I was hit by a wave of homesickness and longing for Ross.   The idea of being alone, all by myself for weeks, months or years was so overwhelming.  The indefinite number of solo nights stretched out before me like a desert,  and I had a massive panic attack while curled up on the floor of my perfectly-decorated lounge room.

When I calmed down, I realised that things aren’t that bad.  Sure, I’m going to be alone a lot more than I’m used to.  But I can handle that.  As I mentioned before, I’m a pretty introverted person and I like my own company.  This experience will strengthen me and give me a chance to explore some of my interests.  I can indulge my whims and revel in being selfish for a while.  I don’t have to answer to anybody, and I can just focus on healing myself and doing the things that make me feel good.  This seems like a perfect opportunity to build a better relationship with myself.  Best of all, there’s no need to be lonely.  I’ve got my family just around the corner, and my friends are just a phone call away.  I’m going to have to reconnect with some people that I’ve neglected, and foster my precious friendships.  But I’ll find a way to make this work.  It’s not going to be easy, but I’m going to do this.  Eventually, I just might love living alone.

Loving an imperfect smile.

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My smile is far from perfect.  I once had a dentist tell me that my teeth were “too big for my face”.  I suppose that might be true.  I inherited my mother’s broad smile and my father’s narrow face, so it’s almost as though my teeth got crowded into a mouth that was too small to accommodate them all.  They overlap in places, some jut out at odd angles and there are gaps all over the place.

DSCF7947I’ve often thought that my smile looked a little like Stonehenge, with teeth randomly plonked down in no logical order.  Some are too high up, having never grown into the spaces left behind when my baby teeth fell out.

DSCF7677I used to be horribly self-conscious of my smile.  I would never, ever smile in photographs.  That’s why all of the pictures of me in my teens either show me with a deadpan expression or a shy half-smile.  Every photo is closed-lipped, and I never look at though I’m having a good time.  I always appear reluctant, hesitant or just plain bored.

When I met someone for the first time, I would always try to keep my mouth closed as much as possible lest they notice my teeth.  On dates I would avoid eating for fear that I’d get food caught in my chompers.  Every time I laughed, I’d quickly flutter a hand up to my face to cover my mouth, so even my laughter was gated and guarded.

DSCF6986It was Ross who started me on the journey of loving my smile.  Once, when we’d been dating only a few weeks, he caught my hand as it flew up to my mouth mid-giggle.  “Don’t do that”, he said. “You always cover your mouth when you smile,  and I want to see it when you laugh”.  I was shocked, because I honestly hadn’t even realised that I’d been doing it.  It had become an unconscious habit of mine.  The next time he cracked a joke, I willed my hand to stay where it was, and my smile was greeted with a wide grin from him.  It was the first time in a long time that I’d felt happy about smiling without covering my mouth.

DSCF6762Blogging has also helped me to love my smile.  When I started taking daily outfit photos of myself, I noticed my tight-lipped smile. My pictures always seemed forced because I knew that it wasn’t my real smile shining through.  Little by little, I encouraged myself to smile wider and wider in my photographs.  For months, those real-smile pictures lay unused on my computer.  Then I finally dared myself to publish one on my blog.  I waited for a firestorm of comments about my ugly smile, but none ever came.

DSCF5988Once my dentist told me, “You could have your teeth fixed, you know” and I went home to contemplate the possibility.  When I realised that I would be pissing away thousands of dollars to fix something that wasn’t medically wrong with me, I started to change my attitude.  My teeth aren’t preventing me from living my life.  They aren’t causing me pain or discomfort.  They just don’t look as straight and pretty as they could.  Well, so effin’ what?  I’d rather have those dollars to spend on an awesome trip, or a house, or something else that would make my life better.  I don’t want to waste that money to fix something that isn’t broken.

DSCF5766So, I figure if you can’t change it, you’d better accept it.  And if you’re going to accept it, you may as well try to love it.  So even though I’m not head-over-heels for my wonky smile, I’m well on the way to loving it.

Do you have a body part that you’re self conscious about?  How do you learn to love your ‘flaws”

Things other people love (that just don’t do it for me)

So, remember a while back when I revealed that I don’t like Pride and Prejudice or Dirty Dancing?  It turns out that a bunch of other people don’t like them either!  After that post, I got to thinking about whether there were other things that the majority of people seem to adore, but which I find overrated. And it turns out that there are.  Here are a couple more things that other people get all excited about, but which just don’t do it for me.

The beach

In theory, the beach is brilliant.  You’ve got beautiful sunshine, the sound of crashing waves, all the gorgeous salty smells and cute people in bathers.  The reality is so much different: sand in freakin’ every place imaginable, sea creatures just waiting to take a chomp out of you, dried dog poop hidden in the sand and old blokes in Speedos.  It’s not for me.

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Binge drinking

So often, when I ask people what they’re looking forward to on the weekend, they’ll say something like, “Heading out with my mates, we’re gonna get wasted!”  It baffles me that some people find the mere act of drinking alcohol to be sufficient entertainment for an entire evening.  Or that the success of a night out can balance on whether or not you spewed on your shoes/passed out on a lawn/ lost your top.  I don’t even like the feeling of being drunk.  I do drink, but I’m a Cadbury Girl: a glass and a half and I’m done.  I’ve just never understood the attraction of getting shit-faced.

Lord of the Rings

Now, don’t get me wrong, I think Lord of the Rings is fine.  I also understand what an incredible literary work it is, and what a huge achievement the films are.  I’m not questioning that.  I’ve just never been able to get into it the way that so many of my friends have.  At the end of each of the movies, I’m not hanging on the edge of my seat wanting more, I’m desperately waiting for the credits to roll so that I can go home.  In my opinion, three hours is far too long to sit around watching a bunch of guys walk to a mountain.  The thing that baffles me the most is that LOTR has all the hallmarks of something that I would love: fantasy, awesome costumes and effects, magic, Sir Ian McKellan.  I just don’t enjoy it as much as I feel I should.

Seth McFarlane

I just don’t find him funny.  Sometimes one of his jokes will elicit a little half-hearted awkward giggle from me, but that’s as far as it goes.  I don’t really get why he’s such a big deal, or why the shows he’s spearheaded (Family Guy, American Dad) are so popular.  There are way funnier people out there that I’d rather be watching, or who would do a better job of hosting The Oscars.

Tanning.

On some people, a light tanned glow can look gorgeous.  But on me it looks like shit.  I’m naturally very fair, and each time I’ve tried fake tanning, I’ve regretted it.  No matter what I do, it always looks streaky and orange on me.  And to be perfectly honest, I’m not convinced that I need to be tan.  I like being fair.  And I’d rather be pale and mysterious than look like I’ve lost a tandoori-wrestling match with an oompa-loompa.  And don’t even get me started on sunbaking…

Is there anything that everyone else seems to adore, which you think is overrated?