I spent most of my childhood, teens, and early 20’s stuck somewhere between “too much” and “not enough”. I was “too much” because I was too loud, too dramatic, too fat, too emotional, too weird. I was “not enough” because I wasn’t thin enough, pretty enough, smart enough, didn’t “apply myself” or “work hard” enough.
I think many women are caught in this no-man’s-land. We are told that we should be thin, but not too thin, we should be pretty, but never look too made up or too “high maintenance”, we should be smart, but not too smart (lest we intimidate potential mates), we should be sexy but not sluts. We can never be “too much” or we will be called sluts, bitches, pushy, or fake. If we are “not enough” we are seen as weak, prude, pushovers, or plain and “un-feminine”.
On my mother’s side of the family, I come from a line of women who tend to actively avoid making waves. There are certain things (like my bisexuality or my non-Christian religion, or the fact that my cousin was married to a complete dickhead for years) that we “just don’t talk about”. Until recent years, this was a minor annoyance, but I went along because that’s just how we did things. Lately though, this has begun to bother me more and more. I’m tired of being quiet, going with the flow, and not rocking the boat.
I am lucky to have just the opposite on the other side of the family. My grandmother is opinionated, outspoken, and sassy! My favorite Gramie story is this: Gramie and I used to have season tickets to the local men’s chorus, and went to all their concerts together. Now, this chorus is a special one because not only is it all men (I have a special love for male-voiced choirs) but it is almost all gay men as well. They raise money for local organizations that help LGBTQIA people, and they sound AH-MAZ-ING while they do it; huge win-win! Anywho, one night, we had invited my mother to go along. At one point before the concert, I mentioned to my grandmother that I hoped that mom wouldn’t be overly weird about seeing a choir full of gay guys (Mom’s a Southern Baptist, and as mentioned before, a “we just won’t talk about that” type) my 80-some-odd-year-old grandmother’s response? “Well, unless she’s trying to sleep with them, there shouldn’t be a problem!” So yeah, my Gramie is absolutely one of my biggest heroes. She grew up in an era were gay people, people of color, and other’s who were outside of society’s narrow definition of ‘normal’ were even less accepted than they are today. Yet she loves everyone no matter your race, orientation, or creed. Unless you are a complete idiot or asshole, in which case she will love you like Jesus said, but will make no bones about not liking you very much.
My Gramie is also the first fat female role model I had growing up. I guess she was really the only fat role model I had growing up, now that I think about it. She wasn’t exactly a beacon of fat acceptance, as she worried about her weight off and on for as long as I can remember, but back then, when fat acceptance and body love were things I knew nothing about, she was what I had, and she was amazing. While she occasionally dieted, she didn’t talk about it constantly, and I never saw here pick her appearance apart in front of a mirror. She was fat and she was aging, and that was that. She wasn’t (and still isn’t) a woman much concerned with her appearance.
She also modeled healthy habits without ever pointing them out or preaching them. She ate what she wanted when she wanted, always eating a wide range of delicious and healthy foods. I definitely inherited and learned my willingness to try new foods from her. She traveled extensively (she will proudly tell you that she has been on every continent and dipped her toe in every ocean on the face of the earth!) so she has tried a variety of foods from all over the world. She’s an amazing cook, and has taught me the joy of cooking food for myself, especially her delicious wheat rolls! Even though I only cook on rare occasions, I know how to do it, and enjoy the process in large part because of her.
Gramie fostered in me a life-long love of learning, and curiosity about the world. She was a teacher for many years, and put high value on books, education, and curiosity. I could always count on Gramie to give me fascinating books for every birthday and Christmas, and I was thrilled to get them! Plus, when I was in college and writing papers, she was kind enough to let me email them to her and she would proofread them for me, so I had a real stickler for an editor, which definitely helped me get the A’s in both my comp classes! Yet even as much as she values learning, she was also THE most understanding person in my life when I decided to take a break from college, and try to decide if it was right for me. I was worried that she might be disappointed, but she was completely understanding and supportive of whatever choice I thought was best for me.
She also made exercise a part of her life, but exercise has always seemed to be something she does because she enjoys it and it makes her feel good, as opposed to something she MUST do in order to be healthy or to lose weight. Another thing I inherited/learned from her is a love of the water. As a kid, she frequently took me swimming, and when I was very young, she made sure my parents enrolled me in swim lessons, so that I would never be afraid of the water. I remember spending summer afternoons with her at the city pool, her swimming elegant laps in the deep end, while I swap and splashed and played.
My Gramie has long been my model of the type of woman I want to be. She speaks her mind and stands up for what she believes in. She treats others with kindness and gives back to the community/helps those in need. She is educated and intelligent, not afraid to ask questions and admit when she is wrong or doesn’t know something. She approaches the world as a perpetual student, always curious, open-minded, and ready to learn. Last but not least, she appreciates her body for all the amazing things it can do, and she takes good care of it, in ways that are loving, not punishing, to both her body and spirit.
I feel like I am so very lucky to have had my Gramie as such a great role model. I know that while I may not have realized it at the time, she has had a profound influence on my life and plays a very large part in my feminist leanings. (Gramie was the one who always told me that her hymn book was a HER-nal. Since the boys had HYMnals, she had a HER-nal! She was also never one to need a man to do a damn thing in her life. She divorced my grandfather and went on to have all the adventures that SHE wanted. She’s never re-married, and never seen any reason to do so. So if you were curious where my independent streak comes from, now you know!
I hope that I can be that sort of influence for the young girls and women in my life. I also hope that more girls and women have influences like my Gramie. I hope that more and more young girls especially have or seek out strong, independent women who inspire them to be true to themselves and to live life to the fullest.
Who are your she-roes? What women have influenced your life in positive ways? Tell me about them in the comments!!