by Nicole Serafin, Tintenbar, Australia
Growing up in a house with my two male cousins – one a little older than me, and the other a little younger – created an interesting dynamic for me as a girl, let alone when I started going through my teenage years and into puberty…
My parents treated us all equally. We went to the same school, had the same friends, went on holidays together and were all very close, wanting to do things together all the time… which in most cases was fine, but in some I found it wasn’t. Not because we didn’t want to, but because we weren’t always allowed. I began to find that the boys were treated differently to myself, often being able to go places and do things that I also wanted to do, but because I was a girl I was told it was not safe or just not ‘the done thing’. It didn’t take me long to realise this notion was the case in most situations, and also held in the world.
I began to notice that the boys were always allowed to do more activities – such as play more sports and go out to places that I was not able to go – even when I had been the same age. Society ‘told me’ that I was a girl and “girls did not do those sorts of things”. However, when or if I ever got hurt, felt vulnerable or expressed any kind of fragility, I was expected to “get over it and toughen up” like the boys. There was never any room or time for tears or feelings. It seemed I was supposed to be able to ‘tough it out’ as they say, but also when it suited I was to be a girl. I remember feeling and finding this extremely confusing.
As I got older, I felt that the vulnerability and fragility which I had as a young girl decreased, or vanished. For instance, I remember it was OK for me as a young girl to cry in public, but as I got older I found this to be less accepted or acceptable; this made me feel uncomfortable, unable to express how I felt.
Also, when I was young, I can remember the times when the boys wanted to play with my dolls, but I saw that as soon as someone came into the room they would throw the dolls behind the couch in fear of being called a sissy.
Why was it so wrong to honour that which we as kids were feeling we wanted to be doing or playing?
We all spoke in private and secretively about what and how we were feeling, and what was going on around us. But it was as if we were somehow scared of someone else knowing what we were really feeling; as if we would then be teased or made fun of.
All of this was so conflicting and confusing that I didn’t know which way to turn or what I should do, let alone who I should be. I remember thinking whether it was OK to share what I was feeling, and if so then gauging how much of this (feeling) to share… and then when exactly would be the best time to do so! If I did feel the need to cry for some reason ought I to do that in private, making sure that no-one knows? And if someone does hear me by chance, then am I to just pretend that I’ve a cold or have something in my eye, and hence my tears!?!
My mid to late teenage years were even more difficult. I was frustrated and angry, not just with myself but also with my family. I couldn’t work out how exactly I should to be. Never did I feel that just ‘being me’ was an option as I always felt that I needed to be what another or others needed me to be (whether that was as a friend, sister, daughter, niece or later, partner). Did they need someone who was assertive, a good listener, or just someone to help make them feel better? I was so confused, surrounded by ideals of what I should be and how I should act as a woman. Yet none of them felt true to me, and so this in itself posed even deeper questions for me:
- Exactly where did I fit? and
- How do I fit in?
It didn’t seem to matter what I did to try to fit in, or to conform to society’s way of being a woman, nothing felt quite right.
Could I dare to just ‘be me’ in a world that had so many ideals and beliefs?
Would I ever be accepted by my family, friends and work colleagues if I was to drop the facade and just be me?
I dared not for so many years; I would hold back and say nothing to people’s reactions and behaviours or I’d let loose and say too much! Often, because of my pent up anger and frustration over pretending to be someone and something I was not, things would almost always come out in a way that was not intended. I had held onto this for so long that the molehill had become a mountain which sometimes would erupt like a volcano!
So I found myself acting as a chameleon – adapting and changing to whatever was needed in every situation to ‘fly under the radar’ and not draw attention to myself. I took on the behaviour expected of me, trying to not question why things were the way they were; not voicing my opinion when I felt it may push someone else’s buttons, and most of all withdrawing into myself, becoming increasingly shy and reserved, except for my occasional outbursts of anger and frustration.
At the age of 14 my mother and father divorced: the shy and reserved act that had been upheld for all these years began to drop away and instead I went in the opposite direction – becoming increasingly angry and frustrated with more volcanic eruptions, drinking, partying and doing whatever I could to fit in with ‘the crowd’. Usually the wrong crowd…
Even though I became loud and overly confident, it was still not me. It was still all an act. I used this newfound ‘way’ as a form of protection: I figured if I was hard and untouchable then no-one could hurt me. I could look after myself and didn’t need help from anyone and it didn’t matter what anyone else thought of me: I was what and who I thought myself to be – a strong independent woman who had the confidence and strength to get by in life without needing anyone or anything else.
I used to think that if only we all had the courage to talk openly to others about what we were actually feeling, then we would actually discover we were all feeling the same or similar: that for most of us, we were unhappy with the way we were living and what was going on around us. That we knew there had to ‘be more’ to life.
Why was it we would not allow ourselves to just be, live and communicate what we truly felt, saw and experienced? What was so scary about that?
Through my own choices I became so far removed from myself… and no matter what I did I just could not seem to feel what being a woman actually was.
I saw the images on TV, magazines, billboards and all the women around me… and yet nothing seemed to fit. I knew ‘all of that’ was just ‘not me’, even though I did try to dress and make myself similar to those women.
Everything that I tried didn’t resonate with me; the confusion of how I should be was not only in myself, but was also something that I had felt in other women too. I found that society supported and allowed for a ‘conditioning’ from a very young age, to not be all that a girl or woman naturally was i.e. it not did not help or encourage me as a young girl to connect to that natural beauty that’s already there within me; the action of self-love in allowing the feelings of vulnerability and fragility which I had experienced, to be openly felt.
Magazine pictures were photo-shopped and famous women and models led lives that were purely designed to keep them looking a particular way, with personal trainers, chefs and lifestyles that were all geared up to support a look or an image that was totally out of most women’s reach. And yet it was exactly that look that got me hooked…!
We as women, as individuals were never really nurtured or taught to explore or express, let alone to connect to our true inner beauty. It was just not something that society was ‘structured’ to do or allow for.
Of course it appeared that we were this from the photos of women in the magazines that I and other women saw and had so modelled ourselves on, regarding what a woman should be / look like. However, I soon discovered that striving to look or to dress in that particular way didn’t deliver the natural or true me, either…
For me, there was no feeling of women just being women in the / their true or natural sense, only an image of what a woman was to be and to look like – for others…
All that I was surrounded by was a beauty that was external and false.
My background was that women had to be strong, able to do just as much and as well as the men, so what hope was there for myself, mum, friends (or any other woman) to be any different i.e. their own natural self?
How could we connect to our inner natural beauty and gentleness and way of being if everything around us was telling us the exact opposite? That the beauty of a woman was all to be found externally?
Why is it that being ourselves and who we truly and naturally are is more difficult than being who we are not?
It finally dawned on me that being who I ‘was not’ was actually more exhausting and took more work and manipulation than being who I naturally (truly) was.
And I began to choose differently, and so came the gradual unfolding and discovering of myself and who I truly was, without all the shields and layers of protection that I had created to not feel the hurt – a hurt that I was actually creating myself from choosing to buy into and consume all the multi ‘woman’ societal ideals and conditionings… which only prevented me from being or expressing my own (natural) self.
This has created space in my life to observe areas of how I am, and how it is that I choose to express not only from and for myself, but also towards and with others. Now I have begun to look inwardly towards myself, as opposed to always looking outside for confirmation. I have now found what it is for me to be a woman:–
A woman who is not judged or ruled by what society dictates her to be; a woman who is free to express; to connect to her inner beauty, and to nurture herself in such a way that embodies the true essence of herself – and I am now able to finally be me without all the pretence.
For this is the real me, and it will always be an unfolding of my true, inner natural essence.