I had some giggles on Sunday. I was sitting in a restaurant with a friend of mine, when I noticed these three little girls, aged about 7 or 8 years old, making passes of our table and whispering. I realised they were trying to sneak looks at the tattoos on my feet, which are flowers on the top of each foot (lotus on the left, pansy on the right). After about the 5th pass, as they got close enough to our table, I turned over my left arm and said “Here, look at this one.” and showed them the bluebird tattoo on the inside of my left arm.
Their eyes were like saucers, and the little blonde poppet that was the one who was showing her friends my foot tattoos said “WHOA!! AWESOME!!”
It was a delight to see them so impressed by my ink.
A few weeks earlier, another friend of mine had a barbecue, and as I don’t drive and he lives all the way on the other side of town, he offered to come and pick me up. He and his two wee daughters (I think they’re 6 and 8) came to get me, and we drove the 45 or so minute drive back to his place. When we got out of the car at his house, the younger of the two girls came up to me and said “Excuse me…?” in that cute way little kids have. I replied “Yes honey?” to which she gave a huge sigh and said “I LOVE tattoos!” Every now and then she and her sister would come up to me and investigate one or more of my tattoos, and at one point the older of the two announced to me that she loved purple hair. Yes, I have purple hair as well as tattoos.
I’m in yr restaurant/house, corrupting yr children.
One of my friends who is over a decade younger than myself and I were talking about the whole thing of women we admired when we were kids, or were younger women, and it got me thinking about the fact that now, in my late 30’s, I am of the age group that can be of influence to other young girls and women. It led me to think about the women who I admired when I was a young. I remember that I loved any woman who was “different”. I loved artistic women, or outspoken women, alternative women. Still do. I admired women who were smart, outspoken, kind, funny, well travelled, well read, individual women. I wasn’t inspired by the picture perfect supermodel (after all, I was a teen in the golden age of supermodels), but was inspired by the quirky women, the ones who were more than just famous or known for being beautiful.
The first woman I idolised was my childhood teacher librarian, Miss Stubbs. I thought she was fabulous, and what I remember is how smart and well read she was. The first famous woman I remember being inspired by was Barbra Streisand. I loved her in comedic roles when I was a small kid. Hello, Dolly!, The Owl and the Pussycat, Funny Girl. She was funny and loud and talked really fast, and she looked beautiful, but in her own way – not like all the other women I saw on TV or in the magazines. As I got older, the women that influenced me were the same – strong, confident, outspoken, talented women. In my own life, famous women and fictional women. Annie Lennox, two more school librarians (the latter of the two was a formidable little woman, intelligent, fierce and outspoken, with a huge booming voice that didn’t seem to fit her tiny stature), a schoolfriend’s mother who had a loud laugh and a cheeky sense of humour, Aretha Franklin, Tank Girl, Sarah from Labyrinth, Anne of Green Gables, Tori Amos, k d lang, Dolly Parton, the saucy, 65+ woman in Florida who I befriended online over a common adoration of William McInnes… All women who are outside of the box as far as traditional values for women are concerned.
Sometimes, being a fat, outspoken, feminist, intelligent, tattooed and (currently) purple haired woman is difficult. I’m told I’m not feminine, too emotional, too argumentative, think too much, talk too much/loud, laugh to loud, too passionate am too outlandish, too wild… a freak. Sometimes the criticism gets so loud that I have a moment where I think it would be easier to try to fit into the mold of what women are expected to be – pretty, quiet, compliant, not too outlandish or different, pleasing. I get worn down by the fight, and think it would be easier to give up.
But then a little girl in a restaurant thinks I’m awesome because I’m different. Or a younger girlfriend tells me that the fact that I am accepting of myself, despite my body that isn’t what bodies are supposed to look like makes her feel better about herself. Or I meet an older woman who says “I wish I had the courage to speak up like you do.” A friend’s daughter learns from me that happiness is not about being compliant, being pleasing, being quiet.
These moments happen, and I remember that as I grow older and stronger and more confident in myself, I am an example for other women. In my own way, I can show other women and girls that they are valuable, valid human beings with much to contribute to the world. I think about where I would be if I didn’t have women who were outside of the norm, who took that criticism and were themselves anyway, despite the heat they got for it.
That’s the woman I want to be.