I think I’ve been writing this post for over a decade.
Maybe that’s the problem.
I was 14, making a list of things to do to make myself look better – ‘remember to pluck eyebrows once a week’, ‘always paint nails’, ‘find teeth whitener’.
I was 16, planning the steps I would take to be thinner, to be more elegant, to have better hair next summer or when this happened or when I saw them.
I was 19, projecting myself into the future, over-thinking hypothetical situations and declaring that I would look more ‘together’, that I would be more toned, that I would be better, then.
I was 26, fighting the ‘beautiful bride’ pressure to lose two more pounds before my wedding day, to stop using heat on my hair in the hope that overnight I would become Rapunzel, to be something different on my wedding day to what I had been all my life.
I’ve been my own project for a very long time.
I realised this last week when I was having a catch-up with my sister. When we hang out, we tend to cover most topics under the sun, and we were consulting each other on our “current hair situations”. It was a light-hearted chat. My hair is currently light blonde, having been, less than six months ago, deep chocolate brown. Never a great move. So I was wondering what to do with it next: grow it out? Go darker again? Will this eternal fringe ever rejoin the other lengths of my hair? And she said
Gemma, you just need to enjoy your hair as it is. Wake up every morning, write it on your mirror if you need to, and embrace it as it is.
She was being quite Disney about it all – we must be related. But it summed up years of thought, of analysis, of peace talks with myself. I am not a project.
I hate that I have to even type this; but of course there is a place for self-improvement. Working out is healthy. Yes I have made my hair cry by bleaching it too often. Groomed eyebrows are a great look. And another disclaimer is this – I like things that look good. And I like taking care of myself, planning outfits, buying make-up.
But this has nothing to do with that. This isn’t about health, or enjoyment.
It’s about the merry-go-round I ride that makes me unhappy.
This merry-go-round allows me to separate myself from my body. Some say this comes from the dualism that western civilisation has adopted from Plato’s theory that, in essence, the soul is imprisoned in the body. The body, then, is ‘the other’, at times an enemy, something to be controlled and pruned and worked on. It is separate. And it is this separateness that is allowing my fingers to type and delete, type and delete as I write this. ”This is so trivial. It’s about superficial, physical things.” But then – no. This is important. Bodies are important. I am tired, and I know others who ride the same merry-go-round as I do who are tired, too (and so I will keep writing, and I will press ‘publish’ on this: even if it makes me feel more vulnerable than I’d like.)
And body and soul are at the very least inextricably linked, and I like to think of them as one unit. So I am not separate from my body, and how I treat my body – even how I think about my body – impacts the rest of me. So this is important.
This merry-go-round allows me to think of myself in the future, but not be present. I project. If I —, I will be —. I’ll buckle down and maybe I’ll wear that nice dress when I am more tanned, or when I have toned up more. Or I’ll use that floral headpiece as a reward for when my hair has grown past a certain length. These are silly examples, but they are real. In isolation, they’re no big deal: but when I make these promises to the me of the future, the me of the present is discarded, put down, erased. And that isn’t right: she’s all I have (and so she really should just enjoy that flower crown!) and she wasn’t made for riding this merry-go-round.
This merry-go-round allows me to think of myself as not good enough because I’m projecting all the time. And the problem with that is that I am playing into the hands of the advertisers whose profit is made from me believing them and running, always running in their hamster wheel that blasts a broke record of “if only I had that shampoo”, or “that gym membership”, or “that new dress”, I would be good enough. They are the masters of the merry-go-round, knowing full well that once I am on their ride, they will think of more ways to keep me on, and they become the masters of me, too.
I am 27, and I’m hopping off the merry-go-round. I am not becoming. I am not a project. I am my body, and I am my soul. I am me, now. And I am enough.