Louise McSharry: Failing to live up to an impossible female standard
Ladies and gentlemen, I have a confession to make. I am failing as a woman. I am flailing as a female example, and I am perfectly fine with it... mostly. You see, the woman we see portrayed most often is beautiful and well put together, perfectly groomed and almost certainly wearing matching underwear. I am none of those things. But that's okay!
I mean, I know that it's okay. I totally know that, but there is still a tiny voice inside me which is irking. Why, when I will fight every day of my life for women to have the right to be what they want to be, do I feel guilty for failing to fulfil typical feminine stereotypes?
How exactly am I failing? Well firstly, with my clothes. It's not that I don't like them, but most days I just throw on jeans and a t-shirt. Why? Because I'm lazy, and I like to be sitting until as close to departure time as possible. Secondly, I like to be comfortable. As a result of this, if I'm at home, I'm wearing my pyjamas. I'm wearing my pyjamas to the extent that if my boyfriend comes home and I'm fully dressed, he assumes we're having people over. Literally the first thing I do most days after getting home is rip off my bra and throw it on what we have christened 'bra couch'. (In case you're wondering, the pyjamas are not matching and rarely fit me properly. Rosie Huntington Whiteley will definitely not be advertising these bad boys for Marks and Spencer. They are baggy, and probably stained, and most of them have holes in them which I enjoy poking and stretching while sitting on the couch.)
This sartorial laziness at home is not my only "failure" as a woman. I'm also extremely lackadaisical when it comes to hair removal. Don't get me wrong, I shave my legs and armpits in the shower when I remember but the rest of it can feck right off as far as I'm concerned. I had a wax once, but no amount of Sex and the City is going to convince me that I should have to pay for the bloody painful privilege of having what was once deemed completely normal ripped from my body simply because some idiot pornographers in LA decided that pubic hair is not hot right now. I know I'm right here, that it's fine for me to choose not to get onboard this train, that I have a right to choose when it comes to what I do to my body. But still I have this guilt. The little voice in my head telling me I'm failing. That "good" women get regular waxes.
I'm also failing when it comes to shoes. Last week I donated more than 30 pairs of high-heeled shoes to my local charity shop, having finally accepted that I was never going to wear them, no matter how beautiful they are. Why? Because they make me bloody miserable. In my late teens I spent night after night in bars and nightclubs balancing on spindly heels, trying to forget about how much my feet hurt so that I could enjoy myself. I failed. If I wear heels I fall over, and all I can think about is how much pain I'm in. I don't care how many people tell me "no but actually these ones are really comfortable...", I'm just not buying it. They are NOT comfortable. If heels were comfortable we'd all be wearing them all the time; the pain just isn't worth it to me. If you can manage it, I have nothing but admiration for you. I will gaze enviously at you on a regular basis and occasionally a bout of temporary amnesia will mean I'll wear some out (I had to save one or two of the most beautiful pairs, you see), but I will always, ALWAYS have flats in my bag. I know my boyfriend loves heels. I know he thinks they're sexy. And they are! But I can't do it. And again I feel I'm failing.
Even though I know I'm right in principle here, I can't lose the tiny feeling of failure that claws at my insides on these matters. It's immensely frustrating to have these niggling feelings that contradict my entire frame of beliefs. I despise the idea of a world where women feel that they have to be a perfect doll, dressed immaculately and perfectly groomed, always ready to please her man. And yet... consciously, I'm fighting my inner voice. Of course, I know it's nonsense, but I can't help but wonder what it will take to drown it out on a permanent basis. Will I be able to shield my future daughter from these ideals and expectations? Will I be able to silence those around her who indicate that 'ladylike' is the way to be? I don't know. I do know, however, that the better I feel about myself, the better example I'm going to be for her. So I'm going to give myself a break, or at least try to. Feel free to join me.
First published in INSIDER Magazine, exclusive to Thursday's Irish Independent