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bear by san

February 2017



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criminal minds garcia girls who wear gla

dumb all over. a little ugly on the side.

One thing that becomes more and more evident as I move into my forties, and what feels--really, internally--like adulthood at last... is the way I and other adult women have this habit of fucking up one particular aspect of our responsibility to younger generations. Young women in particular, but young men too.

It's not really our fault. We've been trained to it for generations. But it is our responsibility, and we bloody well need to fix it.

I'm talking about how we minimize, despise, excoriate, and abhor ourselves. How we exclude ourselves from consideration. How we martyr ourselves for others. How we call ourselves ugly, awful, incompetent, and stupid.

I don't know exactly how to describe the sensation I get when I see a beautiful, fiercely intelligent, accomplished and skilled artist and craftswoman twenty years my senior call herself ugly and stupid... but I am realizing that I have that same power now, and it's up to me to use it wisely. Not to give voice to the anger and self-hatred and self-loathing I feel so fiercely. Not to indulge in the kind of scab-picking hairshirt self-abnegation that we've been trained to crave, even though it's so fucking bad for us and everyone around us. Even though it robs us of our power to be positive in the world, and good for other people.

There's a thing coffeeem said to me once that ranks up there as one of the two most transformative positive things another human being has ever said to me*. I have since clung to it and passed it along to friends in times of need.

What she said was, "You'd never tolerate somebody talking about me--or any of your friends--the way you talk about yourself."


And then lately, I've started thinking about that queer horrible sensation in my chest when I see a woman who I deeply respect and admire casually savage herself, and I have realized that Stephen Sondheim has the right of it, as in so many things. "No one is alone." Not in the sense that there will always be someone there for you--oh, no; that's the grade school reading of that sentiment. There will not always be somebody there for you. Sometimes you have to do it yourself.

But in the sense that nobody is so isolated that their actions have no effect on those around them.

You see, people believe what I say. If I say that I am abhorrent and useless, I'll believe it. And even if the people who love me don't believe it... it will hurt them to watch me do it, anyway.

And worse, people for whom I am an authority figure, an adult woman, somebody who has lived, will see it. And they'll internalize it. Young men see adult women despising themselves, and it teaches them that women are abhorrent and useless. Young women see adult women despising themselves and it teaches them that they themselves are abhorrent and useless.

It doesn't matter how I feel about myself, how richly I think I deserve the browbeatings I give myself.

It is my responsibility to do this small thing to make the world better for other women--other people--younger and older.

Well, if it was easy, it wouldn't be fun.

*The other one was something The Jeff said to me, back when I was nineteen or so--"You're not as crazy as you think you are." It was more that I wasn't as crazy as I had been taught to think... but yeah, it changed me.


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Thank you for that message, it just made me tear up.

(And I don't mean that the way it might sound. I'm not being mean, I'm being heartfelt and honest. It hit me in a very visceral way)
Yes. Me, too.
I think, no I feel - too many thing about this post. As a 43-year old woman who all too often calls herself an ugly old spinster, who too often feels that it's "too late for me" for a lot of things - this was a needed reminder.
I saw a woman who must have been in her late fifties/early sixties at the climbing gym on Monday. It was her first time out, and she was with experienced friends.

She did better than I did my first time out, and I started at 35.

And I just found a promising and totally unexpected relationship at 39. My mom met the love of her life in her mid forties and they're still together.

Just saying.
This may seem a little off topic, but bear with me.

I saw an article in the paper today about women in business "allowing" themselves to go grey, i.e., no longer dying their hair, and about how women with grey hair are viewed as old, but men with grey hair are viewed as mature and experienced.

The rage...it is hot needles stabbing into my eyes. GAH. Why? Why can't we accept that getting older isn't bad? That age isn't ugly or weak? That youth isn't the end all and be all of life? That the process of gaining experience, of growing up and getting older, is natural and necessary and good?

I love and earned each and every grey hair on my head. I don't want to be eternally 18 or 22 or 25 even. My teenage years sucked. My twenties weren't much better. I was fucking clueless and lost. Getting older means I gain experience and (hopefully) wisdom. Wisdom like what you wrote today--the realization that we can positively affect the people around us in myriad small ways, and not to underestimate ourselves and our affect on those around us.

Thank you for writing this.

Edited at 2012-04-04 02:28 pm (UTC)
I like my gray hairs, dammit. They're made of authority.
It is very tough to change. I am working on this myself. The thing that really hit home with me was when my young daughter started doing it. It was one of the most horrible feelings I've ever had, knowing I'd passed on the self-loathing behaviour to her like a gene. It made me realise I have to change the way I think--but it requires the help of friends and loved ones.

Thank you for this post. YOU are awesome, btw.

ETA PS: have you seen this? http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/03/science/clothes-and-self-perception.html Obliquely related, in the sense that sometimes you have to fake it to make it.

Edited at 2012-04-04 02:29 pm (UTC)
You're pretty awesome too. And brave.

And oo, what a neat article. I just tumblred it.
Thank you.
Sing it!

Yes, and yes, and yes!
This is rather hard for me to read, and I've had to think about why. And I think it comes down to this: like many women of my generation (and I'm 8-10 years older than you, I think) I was raised not to 'show-off', which translates as not drawing attention to myself and not talking about my successes and abilities in public. Family stuff added a couple of extra layers to this with the result that self-promotion and self-esteem feel dangerous to me. At the same time, I was taught that it was my absolute DUTY to put the needs of others first, to celebrate their successes and to suppress anything about me that might detract in any way from them. And, y'know, I'm British and our cultural norms are somewhat different.
I respect your position, and I don't want you ever to feel you have to denigrate yourself. I don't want any woman to feel like that.
At the same time, you've set up a clash of duties in my head. It is my duty as a Professional Good Girl to be nice, and never show off. (Seriously, this is so ground into me that I had to train myself to smile and say 'I hope you enjoy it' when people tell me they've bought my book, rather than 'I hope you won't hate it'.) It is also my duty never to do anything which might cause harm to others... And I can't do both. I can do what I do now, which is duck situations in which my abilities may be mentioned positively.
We old types don't do this to harm, we do this because our lives have taught us that it is not safe to do anything else (literally not safe, in some cases, including mine). I'm not sure I'm strong enough to take the burden for all those younger women too.
None of us do it to harm. We do it because it's horribly ingrained in us. We're raised to it. And if you put yourself down first, maybe somebody else won't do it.

And I'm not saying you have to be immodest or sing your own praises.

I'm saying that when any one of us calls ourselves ugly and incompetent and stupid, no matter how deeply we believe it, we're demonstrating to younger people that nothing a woman does can ever be considered adequate.

That's toxic.

So say we all

This post rings so true for me. It's especially hard with kids. It takes energy and time to tend to their needs and guess whose budget that comes out of? But if my girls never see me do things for myself, how will they learn that they deserve it too? They rarely see me sitting down to read, because I do it when they are asleep. When we went to buy new spring dresses, one of them asked, "Are you buying a new dress too?". I laughed. As if!
My husband is blessed with actual self-esteem and it sometimes pisses me off. He might say, "my gym socks are wearing thin, I will throw them away and buy new ones." In my mind I think, "Gym socks! I am lucky to have any socks without holes that actually match! Who has time to think about socks or actually go out and buy some?". But I keep my mouth shut because I know that is the voice of my crushed and angry self. I am trying to listen and learn. Trying to be the person who deserves a new pair of socks.

Re: So say we all

You deserve a really *good* pair of socks.

Smartwool or something.
Well voiced.

As a 41-year-old whose self-image has dashed all over the place in the last five years, I appreciate the reminder that I get to decide how I see myself and that I'm responsible for it.
great post. really.
Ah yes. My "Old, fat, and ugly" comments. I know them well.
I do not do self-deprecation - not since I realised when men do it, it's an invitation for everyone to rally round and disagree, but when women do it, it's an invitation for them all to agree she has just confirmed the truth.

Of course, that has in part contributed to my reputation for being hard as nails/super-confident. Which isn't nearly the compliment you might imagine some weeks.
Or it's an invitation for everybody else to start playing the "I'm lazy and stupid" game too.


One person at a time.
I think it was from mrissa that I got the, "Please don't say that kind of thing about my good friend, [name of person you're addressing]," construction. Very useful, both when addressing other people, and addressing myself.
The mrissa is very fine that way, yes.
Sorry to be off topic but GREAT userpic. :)
I aspire to be like Kirsten Vangsness when I grow up.
Well said. Well thought.

One of the challenges is that a terrifying amount of the culture is dedicated to infusing that sense of inferiority and self-loathing into women. There is the civilization-old conspiracy among men (even though they probably have no idea they're conspiring) to make women powerless so that they themselves feel more powerful; and there is a multi-billion dollar industry dedicated, quite consciously, to making women feel inadequate and ugly and stupid. There is an old advertising axiom -- If you can make a woman hate herself enough, you can sell her anything.

Not passing this on is important. And hard. I am reminded of a line I read somewhere, speaking of foot-binding and the culture that permits it -- that a mother's job is not done until she binds her own daughter's feet.

I sometimes, if the conversation turns that way, tell young women (I might mention that I'm an aging guy) that they should take Miss Piggy as a role model. She's self-assured, confident, secure, and knows her own mind. And she's not averse to being non-deferential when someone treats her with no respect.
I work with a lot of actresses, gorgeous women, women who make you weep with how beautiful they are. And when someone who is TWENTY FIVE YEARS OLD starts talking about how old they are, it ... I dunno ... it broke something in my head.
Especially when you get the older women talking about craft and you realize that at 40 these women still think they're just beginning to get someplace. I run a classical theater company. You can't just be pretty and do Shakespeare. You need to bring the stuff.

But image ... gosh the punishing nature of image and how cruel it is.
Interestingly, I have been compared to Miss Piggy - and that I do take as a compliment...
Thank you for this.

I was hell on wheels in my twenties. I went through my thirties trying to be nicer. And I've now swung all the back around to being unwilling to tolerate crap, and being aggressive enough to not give a damn if people think I'm being aggressive or "un-nice."

Because "nice" for women is practically defined as "putting yourself down in favor of others."

I've learned how to be more gracious and polite as a first line of approach--there's no reason to be a jerk right off the bag, in general. But the jump from "gracious" to "I WILL RIP OFF YOUR HEAD AND SH*T DOWN YOUR NECK" will short-circuit like whoa if I perceive the other person expects me to behave like a "good girl" and self-deprecate in their favor.

And you know what? I'm good with this. There are remarkably few side effects of this behavior. What the hell were we all scared of?

Age is a useful thing. There are some things you can only unlearn by time.

Now we have to make sure younger women are never taught this self-deprecating crap in the first place.
Because "nice" for women is practically defined as "putting yourself down in favor of others."

You know, in the comment below yours I was talking about running into an old acquaintance and not letting her use me as a bludgeon on herself about being fat.

And one of the things that happened is that she started in about how she was surprised I even recognized her after all the years and pounds. And I said, "Well, of course we've both improved in all this time, we were just babies then! But I'd have known you anywhere."

From the startled and pleased look she gave me, I wonder if that wasn't, if not her first, one of her first experiences of another woman being nice to her by praising both parties involved. But really! It can be done! We are both awesome! Go us!

Er, I mean, you I barely know, you are a friend of a friend on lj. But I am perfectly willing. Go us.
This weekend I saw an old cordial acquaintance I hadn't seen in years. And twice in a 15-minute conversation, she tried to use me to bludgeon herself about being fat, and I wouldn't let her. Conversationally I was having none. Because it's my responsibility to do it for myself, but it's also my responsibility not to get sucked into doing it for other people. She is a nice person, and I was glad to see her, and the very last thing she needed was to go away from that situation thinking, "mrissa sure thought I was horrible for being fat," instead of, "mrissa sure was happy to see me."
Beautifully expressed and an essential change we all need to implement.
This is something I'm working on myself. It seems a bit easier to me, now, when I'm in the "grandma" stage of life, because I'm looking at my live-in grandkids, going "do I want them to be like this?!", whereas when I was in my twenties and raising my daughter and son, I was just trying to survive. But it's hard not to say "but I'm old, and fat, and and and..."
I think it's okay to say "I'm old and fat," as long as one doesn't attach a value judgment to it. It's fucking okay to be old and fat. There's nothing wrong with being old and fat!

One of the most wonderful things I have ever heard was Carol Emshwiler, after I had run to hold an elevator for her (zomg, I HELD AN ELEVATOR FOR CAROL FREAKING EMSHWILER) thump her cane on the floor, (literally) and spit (not literally), "I'm SO DAMNED OLD."

That was wonderful, because while she was frustrated with a limitation and expressing it, it was not self-blaming. She was pissed off... but she wasn't hating herself.

Do you see what I mean?

(She's amazing. Amazing.)
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