Why are you still in that shitty relationship?

OK, so maybe the title’s a cheap gimmick. But I got you to look, didn’t I? This one’s about the pressure to be in a relationship and how it affects our self-esteem and happiness.

As a teenager and woman in her early 20s I felt like I had a lot to prove. Specifically, a lot to prove sexually. Upon meeting new people, I felt like a failure because I wasn’t in a relationship. My short and, most often, disastrous mini dating spurts made me question if there was something wrong with me. Why couldn’t I get a girl? (I was more gay back then. And no, homophobes, if you have mysteriously managed to stumble upon this post, it wasn’t ‘a phase.’)

I found that every time I found someone I did like I ‘fucked it up’ by being overly keen. I was desperate to be with them no matter how much I actually liked this person or how awesome they were or were not. I had such low self-confidence, and I wanted to prove that I was loveable (to myself and, I imagined, to the people around me), so would take any offer I could get. This trend started with a disgusting first kiss and continued throughout my twenties with a series of failed mini-relationships with, for the most part, people I wasn’t really that into in the first place.

Nowadays, I find that my self-esteem has improved a lot but I still often feel unloved. I question whether my friends really like me and I find it hard to accept the love that is freely given to me. I also don’t think I’m the only one who feels like this. I have seen many of my loved ones stick with violent relationships, or relationships with people they are just not that into.

We feel a more valued member of society when we are in a relationship, no matter our relative level of happiness or how dys/functional the relationship is. We feel more presentable to the world, more socially acceptable. I wonder what it is about our society that makes people desperate to be in a relationship, any relationship, at whatever cost?Maybe it’s because the forces that be would prefer us to be preoccupied with the heteronormative structure of exclusive pairing, children and paying the mortgage, than single and dangerously free to think outside and, perhaps, smash the system.  Neil Patrick Harris knows best

Despite all its lip service to individual freedom, society wants us to be in a relationship, no matter how bad that relationship is and no matter how unhappy we are. I am more approved of when I’m in a relationship. I’m seen as more successful and I am taken more seriously. Perhaps this is one reason why groups of friends often get married orpregnant around the same time. It’s a culmination of the pressure to do what is socially acceptable plus female competition – to prove you are just as, or more, successful than your friends.

I am certain that this social pressure falls more heavily on women. We are judged so much more harshly than men. It is far more important to keep us in our subservient place by making us neurotic about the importance of being in a relationship and if, when and how we have children.

When I started dating my partner, I was both touched and slightly irritated by just how happy everyone was about it. Everyone wanted to tell me just how happy there were; even my best friend’s mother declared “I’m so happy she’s found someone.” I appreciate the well-meaning behind such declarations, but I also want to shout, “I was quite happy being single, you know!” I did my best to rail against the feeling that the most important thing in my life was getting a man, and the Disney narrative of being saved by your lover.

Being in a relationship is great, in so many ways, but it also hasn’t saved me. My problems haven’t gone away, I just have more consistent support to deal with them. I’m happier, but I’ve also had to compromise in some areas, for example with the use of my time. A bit like having a baby, relationships aren’t to be entered into lightly. They’re a huge waste of your time if they’re not right.

My partner is great, but there is a lot more to both of us than our relationship.

I guess the point I’m trying to make here is that I’m sick of being valued in comparison to others. I’m sick of female competition to get the guy, marry the guy, be impregnated by the guy. And this competition definitely carries over to affect queer folks, as the sex-obsessed queer ‘community’ proves.

I would love to know whether you have felt this pressure to date, or to stay in a relationship because, gasp, what if you are truly unloveable and can’t get someone else? Have you felt this pressure as a guy, and why do think it’s so hard to think outside the relationship box?

I am more than my relationship. I am more than a single, dating or married person. And I know you are too.

Too Fat for Fashion

Rant warning! My experiences of clothes shopping in Montreal. A city for thin fashionistas.

Here’s the thing. I love dressing up. I love make-up, skirts and skimpy clothes. I love looking sophisticated, punky and kinky. I love red shoes and lipstick. Short skirts and black lace tops. Beautiful French knickers, framed by a thick 1950s garter belt. But today stepping into a clothing store I was made to feel all wrong.

I am seriously depressed right now. Having gone into a four-storey shop with a good plus size section and tried on about 20 items of clothing all I managed to get was this shitty t-shirt. It’s ridiculous. I mean, what’s it going to take?! All I want are some pretty clothes goddammit so I look sexy and feel good in myself. Argh! As one friend said, I’m not even that big! But this seductive hierarchy of fat versus fatter is not even the point. No one – no matter their body shape – deserves to feel too big to be sexy.

This is what the clothes industry does. It tells fat people, sorry, you’re not meant to be in this store. You don’t have the right to wear these clothes. You’re not allowed to feel good about yourself. Please go to the one store in the city that has plus-size items and buy an overpriced flowery dress. For God’s sake, don’t come in here! You make us look bad.

I feel I have said this, like, a million times before, but the choices the fashion industry makes are not benign. They are carefully calculated to promote an ideal female body that is virtually impossible for the majority of women to emulate. Did you know that in the UK the average size of women is 16? This is my size, and today, in Canada (which is meant to be a fatter country forgodssake), I couldn’t find any skirts that fit me. On a good day I think that this collective exclusion of clothes for fat people is mostly unconscious. On a bad day, like today, I know it is deliberate. I know my thin friends find it hard to find clothes that fit them, often spending hours of their time and a lot of money to find outfits that they feel good in. But there is a difference between the shopping experience of fat and thin women. If a shop for doesn’t even stock your size, this absence suggests that young and fat women don’t exist. That you don’t exist. Thin people have a right to complain about the fashion industry too, but their experiences are just not comparable to ours. The fact that most high street (that’s main street for you North Americans) stores don’t even stock my size makes me one seriously pissed off shopper with damaged self-esteem.

Just: BLEURGH.

The fashion industry has given me this problem and now I have to deal with it. I have two options. One, I say fuck it and carry on my happy fat way, somehow dragging the dregs of my self-esteem with me into a far more expensive online shop. Or I capitulate to the system and lose some weight. I know that if I drop one size that I will just about fit into many stores’ ‘large’ and I will finally be able to find affordable and chic clothing. I’ll be happier because I’ll look prettier. Or will I?

I have always thought this: Just one size smaller, and I’ll be prettier, happier, more productive. I’ve always thought that the answer to my love-life, success and happiness lies in the elusive ‘one size smaller.’ Maybe to some extent it does. It takes a self-confident person to date a fattie and fat people are less likely to be chosen for the job than their thin colleagues. But, having been both a size 12 and a size 18, I know that my inner state of mind has always been the same. I have been a miserable size 12, a suicidal size 14 and happy somewhere else. Does the clue to my happiness lie in the size of my stomach? Despite all my logical arguments to the contrary I believe, that yes, it does. I know this is brainwashing. My acceptance of a self-hating lie. But faced with being fat and broke in bad clothes, or thinner and looking good in more affordable clothes, what am I going to choose? Do I even really have a choice?

It’s all very well for Forbes-listed Lady Gaga to proclaim she loves all her ‘Little Monsters’ fat, anorexic and gay, but how can I, as a fat person, keep my self-esteem intact in the face of a world that routinely makes me pay for it? Did you know that if you Google ‘fat people’ the first suggested search terms are ‘fat people jokes’ and ‘fat people falling’?

I am incapable of thinking I am pretty now. Looking at old photos I used to hate, I can see how beautiful I was. But looking at a photo taken recently, I can only think ‘fat, fat, fat.’

Luckily, I can change this self-hatred into anger into art through my writing here. This makes it useful, but it is pretty hard, and I can always use some help. How do you guys fight self-hatred? How do you teach yourself to be more comfortable in your body? I’ve found a couple of awesome articles about loving your body. But I’d love to hear your ideas.

Dumbing Down: career women who self-deprecate

Part 1 of two pieces on careers and women.  Why women are expected to be more quiet, speak less, and be more self-deprecating than men.

I’m a pretty shy girl. Well, maybe shy isn’t the right word. I can often be quite friendly and steer conversations in a social setting. I sometimes even introduce myself in a self-confident and open manner and continue to an interesting topic of conversation such as ‘what do you think of the bunting?’ and ‘isn’t the selection of desserts great?’ like I did at my friend’s wedding party this weekend. But as soon as I admire a person, as soon as I think they are talented, interesting or, let’s face it, hot, I clam up. I start to put myself down and insist that I am a less worthy human being than them who doesn’t deserve to kiss the ground at their creative/innovative/sexy feet.

I find myself jealous of people who are able to speak about their career with confidence. Men, in particular, seem to have the gift of the gab. An ability to find the right words and have an unashamedly self-confident attitude that will make their listener believe that their companion is a man worth listening to; a man who knows his stuff.

“I’m pretty much a nobody really. You should probably talk to someone else. “

When I meet people, I am often frustrated at my own inability to, as it were, big myself up. When asked what I do I generally freak out and put myself down as if to insist, contrary to my own belief, that I am a really boring and unsuccessful person with no talents whatsoever. Although I am a pretty fucking clever, talented and well-travelled person with plenty of strong opinions the way I describe myself gives off the subliminal message ‘I’m pretty much a nobody really, not worth talking to. You should probably talk to someone else. ’ I’m pretty much a self-confidence train wreck, really, akin to Michelle Pfeiffer in Batman Returns before she gets transformed into back-from-the-dead Catwoman.

The conversation usually gets off to a good start. I say ‘I am a writer’ to which people respond in a genuinely interested way. Faced with this positive reaction I invariably to continue to make sure my conversation partner knows just how unsuccessful a writer I am by stressing that I ‘only’ write on my blog and the internet, and that I don’t get paid for it. That my zine is only an amateur home-printed publication.

(I’m more of a career Selina Kyle than a kick ass villainess like Catwoman)

It all depends how you spin it. While the above information is true, it doesn’t mean that I am less talented or successful than the self-confident guy who ‘has a studio’, ‘exhibits worldwide’ and ‘is currently exploring a way to replicate soundscapes in a digital application’. I can either say I am an unpaid blogger with larger writing aspirations, I give workshops on sex and sexuality and I teach English to German kids or I can say I am a self-employed writer with a moderate online following who is currently experimenting with her creativity while living in Berlin.  I can say how I conceived, edited and promoted an 80-page bilingual publication and recently organised and performed in a cabaret attended by over 600 people.

See, I even had to insert the word ‘moderate’ there. I AM SO TERRIBLE AT SELF-PROMOTION!

While I think I have always been insecure and afraid of bigging myself up, I do think this tendency to downplay is more common in women. A lot of the British career women I know, no matter how brilliant, habitually talk in a way that puts themselves down. We undermine our achievements in order to appear more socially acceptable. We make ourselves seem more stupid, smaller, less significant in order to cater to the subconscious idea that a woman is meant to have a lower place in society than a man.

A man is encouraged from birth to inhabit his personality and develop his abilities. He is nurtured in a way that women often aren’t, who are taught to hide their brilliance and pretend that they are somehow lesser than they are.

I see this attitude in my parents’ celebration of my intelligence along with their desire to push me into a ‘normal’ job. Any job will do, no matter how unsuitable, so long as I fit into the mainstream idea of acceptable-things-to-do-with-your-life. They would rather I were a miserable secretary, employed in a job that uses none of my creativity, than a happy, unknown artist (if I were famous like JK Rowling, as my Dad points out, that would be another matter).

It is now my project to stop apologising for myself when asked what I do for a living. I am going to proudly claim my artist / writer label and not say, ‘but don’t worry, I’m really brainless and broke and what you do is way more important anyway’. I’m going to be proud. Go get ‘em girl.

Don’t forget to check out part 2: fat, body image and self-esteem in the workplace. Now up!