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I have spent most of my life trying to temper the ways I am too big.
Too emotional, too crazy, too physically wide. Too dramatic, too opinionated, too driven, too whatever-it-is-that-doesn’t-fit-within-the-image-someone-else-needs-me-to-be. Women in their ideal are “small,” in every way one can be.
My experiences were always filtered through the ways I could mentally shift, change, tailor, edit and alter how I felt and what I perceived. There was no place for genuineness because what was genuine was not aligned with an image I could conceive of, and it’s still not. It is wholly mine. It’s larger than the pieces of other people I understand.
I never allowed myself to process, or maybe I was never taught how. I carried my losses and grief and allowed them to slowly drain and infiltrate the smallest, most unsuspecting parts of my life, until they had surrounded me, and I had no choice but to acknowledge them. And healing, I learned the long and hard way, is nothing but allowing the feeling to rise and burn through you and pass. That’s it. That’s all it would take. That’s all it would do. But I wouldn’t let myself feel anything more than I thought was the appropriate quantity; how someone else would perceive and measure the situation. I let those little pangs of pain and disappointment become silent, insidious, dark guiding forces simply because I couldn’t acknowledge them.
I thought that being healthy and appropriate was responding in a way that other people seemed to think was right.
I can trace these things all the way back to their points of impact – age 3, 7, 12, 20 – the moments I realized that it wasn’t okay to feel how I felt or be how I was so long as I wasn’t like someone else, supported by an aligned opinion, affirmed by someone’s nod of approval. The moments I was convinced I was crazy, though I was rightfully infuriated, and truthfully suffering and completely responding as any normal healthy functioning human being would to the circumstances they were in.
What rocked me off kilter was not understanding that my emotions were my power. My depth was my capacity. My desires, my drive. That I could not only stand on my own, but blaze my own path, one that could become a torch, one that I would end my life being able to say: “I gave every bit of my heart to others, every day,” and rather than try to quiet my voice, extend compassion to those who are so locked within their own convictions, they too cannot yell their truth.
We don’t like when people cut the line. When they do the things we believe that we’re not supposed to do. We don’t like when people with not-socially-ideal bodies share their pride and acceptance over them, because they’ve cheated the system. We spend our days and years and money trying to fight ourselves to change… and here’s someone else saying fuck it, I’m going to be happy anyway.
It dismantles what we believe is necessary. It exposes what we know is true. It brings forth what we hope to be, and yet haven’t quite summoned the courage for yet.
We don’t like when people are more emotional than not. It forces us to listen. It compels us to change. It awakens in us that same desire to be honest and expressive and fully who we are.
And we really don’t like it when people express things that we believe we can’t. The things that, somewhere along the line, someone told us were too much, too big, too “wrong” to feel. We have no choice but to discount the necessity of other people facing their demons, otherwise we’d have to acknowledge our own.
When I talk about the pressure on women to be as appeasingly unemotional as possible, I don’t mean to sweep the stereotype further into the gender-politicked abyss… but to recognize that we are all subjected to the ever powerful “routineness” of an ideal existence. By this I mean: we think it’s best to be as robotic as possible. Do the most, spend the most, earn the most, sit the most, take the most, every day, all day, forever.
This ideal does not leave room for wavering. Or feeling. Or questioning. Or changing your mind.
So we carry these little, normal, human things, and let them become bigger than we are. More in control, judges of our lives and the lives other people choose.
There are many ways we police ourselves into numb compliance with the social standard of ‘unemotion,’ (if you will). Call an ex the crazy girl who felt too much, wanted too much, reacted in a way you didn’t deem right – and therefore rendered her feelings “wrong.” Tell yourself that happiness is a sustained, placid state. That strong people are gauged by how much they can ward off “bad feelings,” as opposed to hearing, and bearing them and unrooting them and listening to what they’re trying to say (even if that something is just ‘your thoughts don’t always accurately represent or interpret reality as it stands.’)
We are nothing but our perceptions. Things are not as they are, they are as we are. And ultimately, they are the summation of what we believe them to be; what we make them mean. Our emotions are guiding, signaling, structuring forces. They are not to be tempered and ignored. They are to be felt, heard, listened to, followed, dismantled. Acknowledged, then released. Acknowledged, then acted on.
They evolve us past what we believe we can be. They create in us more than we ever think will be possible. They’re only wrong when they’re ignored. They’re only too much when they’ve been suppressed for too long, and blare out of us when the saturation point implodes.
We are the culmination of them, it’s all anything can ever amount to: not what we did, but how we felt about it. A big life requires a big gauge. Don’t lessen your perception because other people haven’t touched the outer corners of their humanness yet. Don’t feel sorry for how much you feel – feel sorry for the people who are too afraid of their own souls to tell you not to feel it.
Photography: Franca Giminez