I remember being 12 years old sitting in the car with my mum outside a store called Caldor. My mum had something she wanted to return but she was having severe anxiety about it. I didn’t quite understand at the time so I offered to return the item for her. It went smoothly and I didn’t think about that moment until recently. It brought back other memories. I remember having to ask for prices for things in shops or extra condiments at restaurants. I was often my mum’s voice. I don’t know that I ever fully understood my mum’s anxiety until I was in my 20s.
In my mid 20s I was a stay at home mum trying to take care of my kids. Somewhere between super hot teenage girl and overweight and exhausted mum I stopped thinking about what I needed or what would make me happy. I’m not sure what happened. Somewhere along the line while I was becoming a mum I stopped becoming me. I know the transition started from a good place. I suddenly had creatures I was in charge of and they became my priority. I was so focused on their needs that I stopped thinking about my own. I also started obsessing about inconveniencing others. I was both desperate to make sure my kids were happy and healthy and also not in anyone else’s way. Somewhere (read – media, society, patriarchy) I had been convinced that the best mums were invisible and as I struggled to find an identity beyond mum I felt all of me was supposed to be invisible. I stopped asking for what I needed and sank into the background.
When I was 29, having spent 8 years defining myself by those around me, I came up with the crazy idea to go back to university. I decided I wanted to find my identity. I won’t lie to you, it was terrifying. I was in classes with kids who were closer in age to my child than to me. They all seemed to cool and clever. Early on in the process I decided there would be no competition. I was going to be fatter, slower, and older. Basically I decided I had nothing to lose. I started to speak up. I started tho raise my hand and ask questions. It was scary but I knew that in order to pass my classes and not waste a tonne of money I needed to stand up for myself. As I started to stand up for myself at university I also started to stand up for myself in other scenarios. I stopped apologizing for a full five minutes before I returned things. I started asking for the specific thing I wanted in shops and at restaurants. I also stopped trying to hide. 18 months into my 3 year university course I found roller derby, which filled me with even more confidence.
As I started to speak for myself I learned some important lessons. 1. No one is offended when you ask for mayonnaise for your fries. 2. The woman at the service desk at Marks & Spencer does not care that I am returning an item. 3. Everyone in the quiet car on the train is grateful when I ask the knobhead to put in headphones or turn his music off. 4. Having a little flutter in my belly before I speak up for myself does not make me weak. 5. I deserve to be visible and I will not be silenced just because someone has decided I’m not longer who they want to sleep with. The last lesson took me a long time to learn but is probably the most important rule. I deserve to be seen and heard. I am worthy. It has nothing to do with wether I am (or not) the physical ideal. This is the lesson we need to continue to tell ourselves and each other. We find excuses why we don’t deserve to be visible — I’m too fat, I’m too tall, I’m just a mum, I’m just a girl. It’s time for us to make ourselves more visible, to make ourselves heard. It’s time that we teach the next generation that they have every right to stand up for their beliefs and if they are scared that we will stand next to them shoulder to shoulder until they can feel worthy of visibility because everyone deserves to be heard and no one should have to live without mayo on their fries.