Reclaiming My Identity: Girl Unmasked
From the day we’re born, pills we’re given little nudges towards what people think we’re going to be. People make predictions about how we’ll turn out, or how they’d like us to. They have a ready-made vision good to go, before we’ve decided on so much as a favourite colour.
“She’s going to break some hearts, that one.” I’ve always thought that was a peculiar phrase, to associate a rosy-cheeked toddler with the “bad girl” reputation, a red-lipsticked Jezebel leaving a trail of shattered hearts and shredded male egos behind her. Nobody ever says “You watch, she’s going to grow up to have a stable relationship and live happily ever after.”
One thing I’ve always struggled with is my sense of self. How much of me is “me” and how much of me is an act, a Shakespearean falsehood of painting on a face and masquerading as the woman I want others to see, or that I think they want to see. I’ve been an actress to please so many people. One had “cool” friends, listened to “cool” bands, played the guitar. I was a faux fan-girl, a liar. Played his favourite songs when he handed me the aux cord, nonchalantly shrugging; “Oh this? I listen to this all the time.” Act 1, Scene 5.
I did a lot of that, pretending. Pretended not to be phased at not being the only one, at being told I’d look better blonde, or that I “wasn’t their usual type”. I’d take it as a positive, that I was special. The opposite is now glaringly obvious; I wasn’t special. I was a trophy, sized up and seized up by a magpie that was already eyeing up the next shiny trinket. But no girl wants the “crazy” label, so we suck it up. The ultimate praise is to be “laid back,” so “chilled” that you’re on the Narnian White Witch end of the spectrum. Cool. Glacial. Not like the “psycho ex-girlfriend, I’m so glad you’re not like her” that he told you about. Not like his best friends’ girlfriend that he routinely verbally tears apart to you because she reacted badly when she found incriminating messages on his phone. What a crazy bitch, right?
Of course, that all goes to shit eventually, when you can’t pretend anymore. The painted mask was all for nothing and you forgot what you look like underneath it.
We lose ourselves so often in the pursuit of “perfection.” The perfect man or woman, the prettiest face, the latest trends, the hottest body, the best career, the most interesting life story. It’s not our fault; society conditions us to live to please others. Dress for men, cover up for school. Be intelligent, but not enough to challenge the system. Be opinionated, but only on the “right” topics. Look good, but still relatable. Be flawless, but keep that ‘girl-next-door’ appeal.
That’s one of life’s difficulties, discovering and maintaining who you are. Craving acceptance whilst consciously or subconsciously mimicking the qualities of those around you. When I look at my loved ones, I’m proud that so many threads of my identity were woven by them and their lessons.
We all take influences from those around us, don’t we? Our favourite schoolteacher, our dear friends, strong role models from parents to politicians, co-workers to celebrities. If I could take a piece of each of mine, it would be the kindness of my best friend. The wicked charm of a former colleague and close friend. My brother’s capability to make people laugh until they cry. My father’s relentless determination to succeed and his devotion to his family. My mother’s unwavering dedication to her children.
That’s what I want to be, what I’d be proud to be. An amalgamation of the most special people in my life, because of their inherent spark and goodness – and that’s what I want to be to others. A character in their stories who they consider fondly because I give them the same rush of love they give me.
So many traps cause us to lose our identities; dating, relationships. The age of social media and “branding” yourself over being yourself. New ventures into education and careers and the constant feeling of being in a race against everyone else, a race you never entered in the first place. You have to be an Instagram Baddie, a Girlboss, a Savage. You’d better label your passions as “guilty pleasures” and excuse your lifestyle choices as “cheat days,” “unpopular opinions” and “#sorrynotsorry” because you can’t just live without a caveat.
I don’t want to live like that. We should not bend and break to force ourselves into a mould that was not made for us. Life does not come with promises of fairytale endings and if the glass slipper does not fit, it does not fit.
It’s taken me so long to identify who I am, what I like, what I want out of life, rather than what I “should”. I want to own my tastes and interests and authenticity. I want to follow my passions whilst simultaneously indulging in trashy television. I can work hard without the #Girlboss label and I can dress provocatively without it being for male attention. I want to accept, no, to love who I am without needing validation. We are all worthy of celebrating our individuality, with or without permission.
I am loud, I am animated, I am gregarious. I am sensitive, I am dramatic, I am somewhat short-tempered. I will not apologise for who I am, and I will not pretend to be something that I am not. Not for society, not for faux friendship, not for love. Perhaps that “someone” will walk into my life, and accept and love me even without the mask, perhaps not. In the meantime – no more pretending. That’s not how we should live.
I never really did like listening to Foals anyway.
Written by Faith Blumberger