“All identities have been created with war.”
The international news reporting guest professor said this last week in regards to Europe’s war-riddled past, but I immediately scribbled it in the margins of my legal pad.
All identities have been created with war.
And my war is ending.
For a long time, I wanted to be one of the boys. I shunned the color pink and curling my hair. I watched football every Sunday with my dad, begging the Cowboys to “please, please make this happen.” I went to hockey games and ate with my hands and didn’t care about dirt; I thought girls who piled on makeup and Abercrombie were fake or desperate or stupid.
Mostly, it was because I was small enough to fit into Abercrombie for about three months of my life. Then my body changed and stretched and expanded beyond what that coveted moose logo could fit. When I wore a lot of makeup, I felt like an impostor, like a child who got into her mother’s vanity. So, my not-quite-pretty-enough, not-quite-small-enough self rebelled against womanhood, against all things girly.
“Being a man would be so much easier,” I would whine, tugging at the bits of my swimsuit I couldn’t quite get to cover up my body. I wasn’t having a gender crisis — I was just tired of feeling the pressures of a patriarchal society that told me I wasn’t worth boys’ time if I didn’t look vaguely like a Barbie.
Except I didn’t know it as “the patriarchy” when I was 13. I knew it as girls looking at me like I wasn’t good enough. I knew it was cool to not like other girls, to have more guys friends than girl friends, to say “guys are just so much more fun to hang out with because they’re drama free!!!”
That’s not a phase girls should go through. That’s not girls being girls. That, my friends, is called internalized misogyny.
My desire to be a “cool girl” continued through most of high school. I took pride in my sweatpants-and-Birkenstocks outfits. I looked down on girls who wore makeup while I left home with a clean face. I lived to talk sports with the boys, reveling in their shock when I could form complete opinions on why Jason Witten is a truly exceptional tight end or why Ronnie O’Brien was FC Dallas’ best offensive asset. I hated on Kristen Stewart and Megan Fox, calling them boring or slutty.
It was exhausting, though, to constantly be checking over your shoulder. To make sure you were the girl in the room who cared the least about being a girl.
Things are changing, folks.
Sometime in the last couple years, women started learning to love each other again. Slowly, young women realized it was more fulfilling to compliment another girl’s shoes or smile than it was to sneer after she walked past. We began to see that another woman’s fashion choices had nothing to do with our own lives and therefore didn’t need to be addressed. We found comfort in the inherent strength of being a woman in a society that wants to treat you like everything but a human. Our war against each other was turned on its head into a war against the forces trying to separate us.
And I turned the corner and began to love my sisters. I tucked everyone into my heart: the women in coffee shops and the funny friends of friends and young girls playing kickball at recess. When men (or other women) speak badly of women, I have become a feminist lioness — no-nonsense and strong and protective. I have called out classmates more times than I can count on calling anyone, including celebrities, a slut. When I feel the conversation start to head down the path of misogynistic prattling, I simply say “She can do her thing. It’s her life.” ever so casually. When someone stands up, the group will usually reroute conversations.
I am not the only one doing this, either. I learned the bravery to speak out against classmates’ remarks by watching strong women in my life boldly speak their minds. Other humans I know, across a broad spectrum of sexualities and genders, shared their experiences and gently checked my white-cis privilege. My friend group has become a mass of young people tired of putting up with sexist, racists, ableist, misogynistic bullshit, for lack of a better word.
I’ve written about how destructive girl hate can be before, but I think I left out a key part: the key to loving others is loving yourself.
And that’s where selfies come in.
I’ve been through a pretty terrible year, self-love-wise. I’ve been in the dark of the woods, unsure how to get back to loving myself for more than 15 minutes a day when I’m laughing with my friends. I wanted to remember how to love my freckles and my fat fingers and my knobby knees and my brown hair. But when you can’t get out of your own head, it’s hard to look into the mirror and decide that you like what you see.
Recently, I’ve turned a corner yet again. I’ve made it to the window of my mental health fortress and realized that I needed to teach myself to love myself again.
So I started journaling. And not being afraid to be proud of work I had done. And to acknowledge both my shortcomings and my accomplishments. And to remember it was my own body that got me through the worst experiences of my life. And that I was cute, darn it.
So let’s stop shaming selfies. If you feel cute or goofy or just need to remind yourself that you are here and present and okay, take a selfie. If you want to remember a moment with friends, take a selfie. If you had an amazing hair day and felt the need to document, take a selfie. If your makeup looks incredibly good because you somehow managed to get your winged eyeliner even on both sides, by all means take a selfie and then teach me your ways.
Take selfies in full length mirrors when your outfit is worth remembering, for which ever reason. Right after you wake up, makeup free and groggy. On the middle of a dance floor, warm with beer and pop music. With friends, all beaming and pulling faces. Keep them on your phone infinitely or post the best ones to Facebook or save them for a friend’s birthday PicStitch. Comment on your friends’ selfies, reminding them that they’re cute and that you definitely should set up a coffee date soon.
Don’t forget that just as you are worthy of the love and respect of others, you are even more worthy of the love and respect of yourself.
In the always wise words of Eleanor Roosevelt, “Remember always that you not only have the right to be an individual, you have an obligation to be one.”
Because identities are forged by war. When you start coming out of the woods, remember to snap a photo of your warpaint. I will stand by you and support every single selfie you Instagram. Together, like women marching into battle, we will learn to love thy selfie.
If loving yourself is a revolution, put me on the front lines.