Feminism · Health

In Praise of Letting Yourself Go

Letting yourself go.

Imagine for a moment that there was no baggage attached to this phrase. What would the words themselves mean? Perhaps they would mean something very much like “Setting yourself free.”

I used to want to be a lot of things I was not, am not, and never will be. I used to try to make myself into the image of an acceptable woman, prettier, smaller, neatly packaged, groomed into some semblance of what women are told we must be to be good enough. Every day a million little messages told me all the ways I was not doing woman correctly. To some it seemed to come naturally. To me, it was a puzzle I was always trying to solve.

My face, too round. My feet, too big. My legs, too hairy. My eyelashes, too light. My hair too frizzy. My laugh, too loud. My words, too aggressive. My voice, too low. My skin, too red. My body, too big. My body, too tall. My body, too much.

I tried to fit myself into the template I had been given by the world. I tried to wear shoes that made my feet look delicate, when in fact they are solid and wide. They hurt. I tried to wear makeup to make my face look pretty, because I knew pretty was paramount. It  irritated my eyes and made my skin itch and tasted bad. I tried to make my hair smooth and silky with products and irons because everywhere I looked, women with hair like mine were portrayed as losers. It was expensive and time consuming. I tried to make myself smaller over and over again with temporary success. This blog is a monument to the last time I did that.

Did I ever want any of these things for myself though? I have come to understand I did not. I don’t enjoy any of that preening and I never did. It’s a chore. It’s a bore. I can think of a so many better ways to spend my time. But I was afraid. I didn’t want to be discounted because I was not performing my womanly role correctly. I did not want people to imbue me with negative traits based on my physique or my face or my hair. I did not want to be forever alone. What man was going to be interested in a woman who doesn’t Woman Correctly? I wanted the reward that seemed to come from being acceptably attractive and to avoid the punishment that obviously came from being unattractive or not put-together.

But then, I let myself go.

It wasn’t all at once. Dieting went first, as documented here. That was the beginning of the end of putting myself together. Next to go was the makeup. It didn’t go all at once, but a little at a time. I eschewed foundation and blush first, lip gloss and nail polish last. I stopped coloring my hair or having it cut or styled. As a testament to this, my hair is now waist length, and it is wavy and sometimes frizzy. I trim it myself. Somewhere along the line, my taste in clothing changed. I made the decision not to wear anything I found uncomfortable. I started buying men’s shoes and sweaters and they fit me better than women’s ever did because women’s clothes constrains. I started wearing loose everything, not caring if it failed to camouflage my bigness or, gasp, made me look even bigger! I switched to the most comfortable bra for work, instead of the one that claimed to make me younger and perkier. I stopped wearing them altogether at home. Sometimes I still shave my legs, but not terribly often. Maybe some day soon, I will stop this too.

I may have lost something in all of this- I may have given up some kind of femininity privilege or something, but if I have, I can’t tell. All I can tell is how comfortable I am now. I don’t even sit “like a lady” anymore. I sit like I am comfortable. Nobody holds their knees together naturally all the time- an amazing fact I noticed one day when I was sitting “like a man” and realized that it was the natural way to sit for human hips and that sitting the way I had been taught took concerted effort. I have more time and money because I do not spend it on the effort of putting myself together. I had been squeezed into a shape, and I never fit. Then the constraints that were keeping me there relaxed and fell away.

I let myself go.

The phrase conjures all sorts of horrors. Ugly, fat, slovenly women who fail to uphold the most basic tenet of womanhood- to arrange oneself into an attractive conforming vision before even thinking of participating in society. Those who let themselves go are said to have given up. This is even grounds for divorce, apparently – I’ve seen it on Dr Phil. It is a breaking of the sacred marriage contract to stop trying to be pretty. Maybe it’s forgivable if you have had an illness or a baby and you just haven’t gotten your body back yet, but to simply say “I don’t want to do this because I don’t like it” is not. Unacceptable woman.

Maybe I have given up. I’ve given up making myself into something I’m not, and something for which the rewards were suspiciously few and superficial.

What has happened to me since I let myself go? Only good things. I have spent more time on my art in this time than I ever did before. My career is going fine. My relationship is going fine. My boyfriend and I now put about the same amount of effort into grooming ourselves. He doesn’t seem to mind. If he did mind, maybe it would mean we aren’t meant to be. I don’t want to be married to someone who will divorce me for not looking pretty enough for them.

Now I know the truth that there was never anything wrong with the way I am a woman. Women aren’t naturally any of those things any more than men are, we are only taught we must be. Women aren’t born with a desire to rearrange ourselves into this acceptable version of femininity, we are indoctrinated to believe we are naturally this way. But nobody is born wanting to wear a painful shoe or smear powders on our faces that sometimes get into our eyes and sting. Women don’t have to wear constricting clothing or go about life with the goal to be sexy at all times even when the situation has nothing to do with sex. If we have to put ourselves together into a particular vision to attract a mate, maybe a mate isn’t so great after all. A partnership shouldn’t be based on superficial things like makeup and painful shoes.

Others may think I let myself go, but I know the truth.

I set myself free.

One thought on “In Praise of Letting Yourself Go

  1. Your honesty is inspiring.

    I’m so surprised by our similarities. I, too, started a blog a couple of years ago about health and weight loss. And I have started to just accept myself the way I am and not obsess about every single thing I eat. It’s really liberating. It’s hard, but liberating. Very inspiring- thank you for writing this – it’s fantastic !

    And, PS: you’re right about your boyfriend. My husband hasn’t changed a bit since I’ve changed my lifestyle and look. He loves me just the way I am. No matter what I look like. That’s what life’s about, not steps and points.

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