International Women’s Day: 4 ways I’ve improved my relationship with myself this year

Happy International Women’s Day!

This past year in my world has been all about self-love… but not in the ways you’d expect. Lately, self-care for me has been about the tough, messy, gritty stuff: tearing down and unlearning toxic behaviours, habits and thought patterns that have prevented me from achieving the healthiest possible relationship with myself as a person and as a woman. 

Women navigate life under a constant assault of messaging and indoctrination, whether it comes from our families or friends, our teachers, the media or larger society. From a young age we’re told what to like about ourselves, hate about ourselves, value about ourselves and what parts of ourselves we need to change to succeed.

But I’ll tell you something I’ve learned: happiness isn’t the destination, it’s the journey. Joy was never meant to be a permanent state of mind. Life is all about balance, and you need the tough stuff to remind yourself how rewarding the happy moments can feel. You can’t be happy 100% of the time, and you won’t be happy at all if you’re always thinking about the next thing you need to do, buy, or change in order to be satisfied with yourself and your life.

The best way to be truly happy is to be present and mindful enough to catch those tiny moments of joy throughout your day, and really experience them. Having goals and ambitions can be healthy and productive, but it’s easy to cross the line between that and becoming obsessed with doing more, having more, being more. Instead, learn to love yourself as you are, with what you have, instead of always being focused on the next thing. 

I still have a lot to learn—there are a myriad of ways that I still don’t treat myself with the respect, kindness and fairness I deserve. But I’m not here to talk about that. Instead, I’m going to talk about four things I’ve done this year to nurture my relationship with myself as a woman and as a human being. It’s not always easy, but it’s absolutely worth the work. I hope you find it helpful, and if not, that’s okay too!

  1. Learning to love my body hair

    I used to be in a toxic relationship with my body hair. This is something that, I think, a lot of women can relate to. I used to shave and pluck obsessively, because as women we’re taught that having body hair is unattractive, shameful and unhygienic.

    I remember a time not so long ago when I’d insist on covering up any part of my body that had even a day’s worth of hair growth. God forbid I wear a tank top in 40 degree weather with a little bit of armpit stubble, right? Unthinkable! I wouldn’t even get in the pool with my nieces if I could identify even the tiniest amount of hair on my legs.

    Here’s a news flash that sounds obvious, but doesn’t always feel that way: most people have body hair. There’s an unspoken expectation that women should always be perfectly soft and smooth, and anything less is considered disgusting. But why is that? We’re women, not children. Men have it, flaunt it and aren’t ashamed of it, so why should we be? Why should we feel the need to hide something that’s 100% natural, something that everyone has anyway?

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying every woman needs to stop shaving immediately. I certainly don’t plan on it—after all, I love how I look and feel with smooth legs and armpits. I could never give up the feeling of freshly shaved legs between clean bedsheets (if you know, you know). However, I do think women should feel free, safe and respected when it comes to making their own choices about their bodily autonomy. And yes, body hair does fall under that purview. If you want to shave your body hair, you should do it because it makes you feel good… not because it’s expected of you. 

    It’s hard to get comfortable with your body hair, but once you get there, boy, is the freedom worth it. So, yes… if you see me in shorts this summer, my legs will most likely be clean-shaven. But sometimes they won’t be, and I’m learning to be okay with that.
  1. Shamelessly enjoying feminine things

    Makeup, fashion, pumpkin spice lattes, chick flicks, crystals, Taylor Swift. What do these things have in common? They’re all “traditionally feminine” things that women are made to feel ashamed of, for the sole reason that they’re seen as traditionally feminine. If you ask a woman about her “guilty pleasures,” chances are she’ll have a long list of them.

    Women are no strangers to shame. Not only does that shame come from men, but it’s become so internalized that we get it from other women, too. Enjoying feminine things is often dismissed as “silly” and it can be difficult for a woman who enjoys feminine things to be taken seriously, both in the workplace and in our interpersonal relationships. In today’s society we are expected to be confident, but not too confident, successful, but not too successful, and feminine… but not too feminine.

    Not only are we made to feel ashamed of the things we like, but we’re also shamed for behaving in ways that are associated with femininity. Being sensitive, emotionally intelligent and empathetic should be seen as positive character traits, but a lot of the time we’re degraded, invalidated and even sometimes punished for exhibiting these traits openly. 

    This is ridiculous, since men are perfectly capable of showing emotion, sensitivity and empathy as well. But men are taught that it’s more important to be strong, to cast your emotions aside, to provide. Those are the character traits we should value, and showing any other emotion reflects badly on your character. And that, my friends, is on toxic masculinity.

    I have a theory, and this is based entirely on my own speculation—but as someone who went through a years-long “tomboy” phase as a kid, I think a huge part of the reason so many young girls have a tomboy phase in the first place is because we are trying to find ourselves—create ourselves—in a world where we know we won’t be taken seriously for being feminine. Young people just want to fit in, and for young women, a lot of the time that means proving you’re “not like other girls.” 

    But what’s wrong with being like other girls? Nothing! Girls are awesome! So treat yourself to that PSL, blast Taylor Swift in your car with the windows down and unlearn the shame that’s been holding you back from experiencing life exactly the way you want to. I promise, you’ll be happier for it.
  1. Understanding that “no” is a complete sentence

    This was a tough one for me and if you can relate to this, I offer my sincerest condolences. Like so many other women, I’ve gotten myself into many uncomfortable or unsafe situations because I was too afraid to simply say “no.”

    But no more, baby! I’m a recovering people pleaser, and I’m starting to think it’s going to be a lifelong battle. No matter how far I’ve come, and how many times I succeed in making decisions based on my needs, it never gets any easier to do it again the next time around.

    I find it so difficult to say no to people, especially people I care about. My biggest fear is letting people down, something I think a lot of women are inadvertently taught throughout our lives. Raise your hand if you’ve ever been told you need to be more “ladylike.” Yeah? Me too. And what, exactly, does being ladylike entail? Well, it means being agreeable. Being quiet. Not taking up too much space. Not making waves. Who else shares these values? You got it: people pleasers.

    Not being able to just say no has even affected my friendships. Look, there’s a lot going on in this noggin. I won’t get into it, but long story short my social battery is practically non-existent. No matter how excited I am about plans when I make them, when the day comes I’m often overcome with paralyzing dread. Sometimes I can move through it and when I do, I always have a great time. But sometimes I can’t, and when that happens, I always used to feel the need to make an excuse as to why I was bailing on plans. I couldn’t just say “no, I’m not feeling up to it today.” I always felt like I had to justify it, which often meant coming up with excuses that weren’t even true. Which is all well and good, but at the end of the day, lying to your loved ones feels a whole lot worse than just saying no in the first place. 

    So just bite the bullet and say no, dammit! You have every right to make decisions that feel good to you without justifying it to anyone else. That goes for friendships, romantic relationships, family relationships and especially workplace relationships. It’s your life, and constantly compromising your own well-being for the sake of others isn’t worth the long-term impact on your physical and mental health. You’re worth more than that.
Illustration by Katie Ferreol
  1. Learning to embrace rejection

    Returning once again to the subject of being a recovering people pleaser, I’d like to talk about how exhausting, draining and claustrophobic it is to always need to be liked. 

    People with neurodivergent brains often struggle with Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria, and my God, does it suck. We feel the sting of rejection more deeply than neurotypical brains, to the point where it actually impacts our ability to navigate day to day life. How are we supposed to live confidently and authentically when we constantly feel the need to edit ourselves so we won’t get rejected? Well, sadly, a lot of us don’t. And that’s a tough pill to swallow. 

    Until very recently, the thought of someone not liking me was enough to send me into fits of anxiety. I was afraid to put myself or my work out there, afraid to cultivate new friendships and relationships, because what if they reject me? Every rejection from an agent or publisher was devastating—it made me never want to write again. Every fight with a friend, every mistake I made at work and at home felt like a personal failure. 

    When I was in high school, I had a close friend whose mom did not like me. And she wasn’t shy about it. In fact, she was quite rude to me—but I didn’t see it that way at the time. I allowed her to make me think it was my fault for not being digestible to her, like I deserved to be punished because she didn’t like me, when in reality she was just miserable and it had nothing to do with me.

    So this year I’ve made a conscious effort to let myself be okay with it when someone doesn’t like me. I try not to take rejections personally, especially when it comes to work. I still have a long way to go, and sometimes the negative thoughts still win. But slowly I’m learning to reframe the way I look at rejections. Instead of seeing them as a failure, I try to look at them instead as an opportunity to learn, improve and grow. 

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