Laili: My nostalgic contribution is not so much a memory, but rather a feeling. This is a feeling I grew up having and still catch myself having sometimes. I think it is a feeling that many people experience as well. It is this feeling that everything I do is being watched by someone and that I must not make one wrong step. Or else someone will be upset, or I will be called stupid, or I will be looked down upon, or gossiped about. I call this someone “The Greater Collective.” Women are raised to function in a way that will gain the approval of “The Greater Collective.” This leads many of us to think that we aren’t good enough for those around us, and we spend our adolescent and adult years trying to bend and twist ourselves to please those around us.
My experiences and memories in dealing with this had to do with trying to have the “cool” or “right” opinion. I didn’t want my opinions to stand out, so I didn’t really talk about them much. If I did, I had to be certain that I was speaking to people who agreed with me. That was my way of dealing with it. I think this is a feeling every woman can relate to.
Rios: When I think of “The Greater Collective” it makes me think of immigrant families and assimilation. We have to pick and choose what parts of American culture we want to carry with us and what part of our roots we want to protect. It is a juxtaposition of cultural erasure while holding onto parts of your ethnicity that connect you to who you are.
Laili: That is so IT! I have been panicking a lot recently about how much culture my family is losing with my generation, since I grew up here, but I have a whole new culture of my own: a half immigrant culture.
There was a really subtle aha! moment for me, because I knew I had stumbled onto something but I wasn’t sure how relevant it was to me. Then, going through my daily activities, I have been so incredibly surprised (and perhaps a little ashamed to admit) just how much of my actions revolve around painful intentions of desperately yearning for approval. Some of you will call this “conditioning,” to be acting in a certain way without having awareness of it. I might agree. I had this system in my head, and even after I became aware of it and fought against it out there in the public world, I would still act out in this way at home, in my head, and in private because that was all I knew! I would still feel a competition with other females. I am speaking of this unconscious thing that happens to many of us women when we feel a lack of self-confidence, like we are in competition with one another (for the love of a man, or men in general, I guess)– a big contributor to women as such a divided and not unified people.
Rios: Under heteronormative standards, it is assumed women play the role of wanting or needing a male partner. I think this plays a role in the development of foul language used to describe women’s behaviors and choices. Slut-shaming derives from this.
There is this cultural notion that men “never cause drama” and women are out to compete and trample each other. I read something on Tumblr that responded to this statement with: “Have you read a history book?” Girls and women are fed the idea that we will never be good enough. We are taught to think we are inferior. “Good enough” in a kyriarchal structure means “a cis white man.” Hearing women say things like “I am only friends with men because I don’t get along with other women” or women proclaiming “I am not like other women” ties into what you are saying about competition. Women are taught to disrespect each other by telling the world we don’t want to associate with one another because “drama” and that is bullshit.
Laili: This is where the really big aha! moment hit me. I think that many people, feminists and otherwise, have a way of ushering the blame onto “society” for instilling this type of behavior in girls and women. It suddenly hit me that it wasn’t society that was perpetuating this behavior… it was me! Sure, the people around us have everything to do with the way we turn out, and after all, what is society comprised of if not the people surrounding us? So yes, society is to blame. It is my mom and dad’s fault, for letting me think that I was unacceptable as a child and that I have to bend and twist in a plethora of directions in order to be okay, in order to find a husband, in order to be successful and accepted in my adult life. But ultimately, it was up to me to heal my traumas and decide that if I have to fit myself into a box in order to “be okay,” then being okay isn’t worth it to me. I could choose to love myself more than the need to receive approval from the people around me. Every woman has to make this decision for herself. Every woman does make it for herself every day. And a lot of women decide that it isn’t worth it for them, they would rather be approved of than to be true and whole. Hell, I still choose that sometimes. At a certain point, we need to rise up and reclaim our power. Yes, we would have a much more enlightened society if the people surrounding us didn’t make us feel less than worthy for thinking, feeling, talking in a way that made them feel uncomfortable. But are we going to put the power of our approval, happiness, and wholeness into their hands? Are we going to choose to perpetuate the cycle, just because they should be better? The world can become enlightened if we start with ourselves and heal our traumas and decide that even if everyone will disapprove of me and cast me out, I insist on being who I am, and loving myself anyway! This would force a change in our society, in our men, in our families, in our politics. How revolutionary this could be!
Rios: I think that self-love is very radical. It makes “The Greater Collective” uncomfortable when women love themselves. Especially, when black and brown women love themselves. Our bodies are politicized and at the same time fetishized and hypersexualized. Even though these are elements society places on our beings, once we (“we” as in, my perspective as a xicana, I cannot speak for other women) claim our agency and express our self actualized definitions of our sexuality or political leanings, this is when people become uncomfortable. In the words of Janelle Monáe, “Even if it makes others uncomfortable, I will love who I am.” Reclaiming power, to me, means introspection on our own toxic internalizations. It means decolonizing our ways of thinking. What is the bullshit that you have been fed that oppresses other people? (ex: anti-blackness, misogyny, racism, transphobia, homophobia, the list goes on and on) These oppressive forces are very real to those who experience them, how do we contribute to that toxicity? What are those things we are taught that makes others feel like they are not “good enough”? I think self-love comes with taking these internalizations into consideration and understanding that being in love with who you are will make “The Greater Collective” uncomfortable.
Laili: My self-love journey is constantly evolving. My daily experience is so back-and-forth. It is a never-ending process. All of the break-ups I have had have ripped the soul out of me. Each time, I went to work on myself, I would spent time alone and use affirmations that eventually became true (“I love myself today” or “I do not wait for perfection to love myself. I love myself exactly where I am today.”) I would do yoga, meditate, and hang out with family and other people who saw my light. Somehow, I still fall into the cycle. Every time I feel like I have a grip on truly loving myself and being whole and awesome just as I am, I will find myself questioning who I am and feeling like I am not good enough for someone else.
Rios: I think self-love also takes practice. We cannot depend on others to make us feel like we are enough. Having affirmations and reminding yourself that you are enough, even when it doesn’t feel that way, is really important. That is the symbiosis of society and the individual. You tell yourself “this is who I am” and society tells you otherwise, and then you start to doubt yourself. After a while, it becomes exhausting and you have to start fucking screaming that YOU ARE ENOUGH. You don’t have time to deal with society’s interference of how awesome you are.
Laili: What I want everyone reading this to walk away with is that it is a journey. Self-love is a fluid thing. It is okay to be where you are. It is okay if you do not love yourself yet. It is okay if you once loved yourself and you’ve forgotten how. You do not have to wait for perfection to love yourself.
Laili Boozary is an undergrad at the University of Oklahoma. She is planning to begin a graduate program in Health Promotion at the department of Health and Exercise Science in the fall of 2015.