Recently a video—“How to Own Your Shit and Get What You Want, According to Ellen Pompeo”—made me pause. I mean, who doesn’t want to know those things?
In it TV’s highest paid actress offers insights into owning one’s shit, punctuated by choice profanity. By Step #5 (Be Okay With Your Flaws), she was grabbing womxnkind by the lapels and yelling: “Men don’t try that hard to be perfect. They don’t really give a fuck!”
A snide smile wriggled across my face in appreciation of her DGAF sass. Our preoccupation with caring what other people think and trying to be perfect is an insidious by-product of history—a patriarchal, white supremist, colonial, capitalist, neo-liberal bullshit history. The result? A dominant culture that has created illusions of what is strive-worthy, successful, and acceptable based on exclusivity.
It made me think about why I was drawn to the video in the first place.
Why is owning my shit so hard?
Reflecting, I welcomed a familiar anger. I’m so mad at our dominant culture for the years of emotional, physical, social, and spiritual harm it has imposed on every body.
Being acceptable is a cultural paradox; it’s a lose-lose. The terms and conditions are impossible (“Be perfect!”) and we’re socialized to derive self-worth externally. The message is to conform and neglect our selves in order to achieve success. To combat this, we pour our energy into honing our self-care routines and indulge in nurturing self-love. We watch videos on how to own our shit. Resisting the dominant culture is a full-time job, and we need all the tools we can find to make it mangeable. As Audre Lorde said, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”
Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”
I haven’t always been a combatant. I’m a cis, white chick, and I drank external validation Kool-Aid straight into my twenties. I was taught to desire desirability. I was groomed to be likeable. My life has primed me to find self-worth in acceptability.
Early years in elementary school stand out. Fundamental play times. At some point, boys became aware that they could flip girls’ skirts to steal a peek at their undies. The first time it happened to me, I went straight to the two female teachers supervising recess. They’d seen the whole thing, and I fully expected them to reprimand the boys who’d teamed up on me. Instead, they did nothing. They laughed!
The boys, it seemed, were entitled to my body. I felt the weight of that settling in. My teachers’ laughter seemed to say: At least boys are paying attention to you. At least you are noticed.
When I was 8, I asked my father if I was fat. Already, I valued the male gaze. He was watching TV. I planted myself in front of him and gathered up my shirt to expose my belly.
“Daddy, am I fat?”
Surprised by the question he looked at me warmly and gave my belly a gentle pat.
“No,” he said. “You’re normal.”
Normal. The word danced around my head, taunting me with thoughts of not being enough. Normal was sub-par; unremarkable. I strove for the ideal—caught somewhere between wanting to stand out and wanting to be accepted by my peers.
When I was a preteen, my family and I immigrated to Canada. Suddenly, I was far from anything I’d known. I tried my best to force some semblance of belonging, working hard on my accent and slang. I loathed standing out for the wrong reasons. I didn’t want to be singled out as the foreign kid. I didn’t want to be othered; I wanted to be accepted.
People shape culture, and I believe we have the capacity to unlearn and renegotiate the terms of our lives. For me, complicity, complacency and apathy are no longer options.
The move catalyzed a keen adaptability within me. When I started a new school, my social camo was a trusted asset. I used it to climb the social ranks toward the Cool Kids and away from the Other Kids. I wasn’t the only one. All around me, my peers did whatever they could to validate who they wanted to be known as.
Labels held us to inflexible identifiers. We were heavy with expectations of who we were without knowing ourselves at all. Cloaked in the invisibility of group membership, we were socialized to be preoccupied with being acceptable to distract us from owning our complex identities and keep us from asking for too much.
So, now, here I sit, steeped in the slow brew of my unlearning practice. It’s got an angry kick to it, and that’s fine. I’m angry.
I’ve grown to see love and usefulness in anger. My anger is fuel for moving conversations forward and upward; it’s an arrow to point at injustice and set new standards. I can trust it. It’s necessary that I do. I can be angry about a dominant culture that has gotten us caught up in being perfect and caring what others think to distract us from trusting our selves, our experiences, and our needs.
People shape culture, and I believe we have the capacity to unlearn and renegotiate the terms of our lives. For me, complicity, complacency and apathy are no longer options. We need to trust ourselves to be angry and to claim our identities. It’s time to discard the “acceptable” cultural paradox and be released from feeling conflicted about who we are and who we’re allowed to be.
As long as they’re bullshit, I am fine with disappointing your expectations. Fuck your assumptions. I am not 100% on who I am and that’s ok. I’m grateful for my shit.