Finding Myself

I don’t know about you, but I have found it very difficult finding myself in this world. I’ve always wanted to share my opinions, but I feel that obstacles have always presented themselves…

I was born to very liberal, modern parents. They always encouraged me as a child, saying I could do anything I wanted to do. Early on in my childhood, I really believed it too. I had such confidence in myself. I was loud, boisterous and outspoken. My parents never hushed me, but other grownups found me irritating and poorly behaved. This instantly led me to believe that children should be seen and not heard. And slowly, as I grew older, I began silencing and shrinking myself more and more.

My childhood friends knew me as being crazy. I naturally have a pretty excitable personality and it was more intense during my childhood. I am not in contact with my childhood friends to this day, but I can only assume they would recall me as being crazy or eccentric and most definitely not opinionated or passionate.

That’s not to say I wasn’t. Even as a child, I was passionate and opinionated… in my mind. I became so extremely closeted in own beliefs that I felt embarrassed even trying to debate with someone or even go against a popular opinion.

I began to shrink more and more throughout my primary education. My perception throughout primary school was that being opinionated was a very negative trait to possess. My teachers rewarded classroom obedience, not talkativeness.

At 12, the free spirit I once was had more or less vanished into thin air. I remained quiet, cripplingly under-confident and entirely obedient to social and gender norms throughout secondary school.

But inside, I wanted to scream. I experienced examples of daily prejudice and regular instances of discrimination throughout secondary school, both by fellow students and occasionally, from teachers.

I will always remember the anger I felt towards teenage boys who would use gay as a way to insult their friends. I will always remember the pretentious, macho exterior presented by teenage boys, the pompous and sexist attitudes expressed by them. I will always remember how atheism was forbidden and even punishable in secondary school; how Catholicism was integrated into all aspects of our school activities and subjects.

Ultimately, and here’s the part that broke my teenage heart, I will always remember how each and every one of us in secondary school were assigned the same narrow box to live in, and the same narrow rules to live by.

At 17, I thankfully graduated secondary school and respectfully kissed goodbye to a damaging, restrictive and confidence-crippling institution.

I soon began to learn that who I had been taught to be in secondary school would get me virtually nowhere in the real world. A path of self discovery lay before me. I would have to learn eventually how to be a civilized, respectable member of society. But how could I do this? What was my life purpose? At 17, I was filled with so many questions but I had yet to find any answers.

I first began to gradually reject social and gender norms. I didn’t want to be seen as weak because I was a girl. So I tried to be seen as strong. I began helping more people and showing compassion. I also finally learned how to stand up for myself, approaching 18 years old. I didn’t want to be seen as stupid, so I decided to go to college but this time study something I wanted to study. My secondary school academic performance was, overall, rather bleak.

I felt like there was something wrong with my brain in secondary school. A lack of interest combined with sheer boredom resulted in quite poor performance; particularly in my junior cycle. I was treated like there was something wrong with my brain, too. School encourages a system of putting people into boxes. I was horrendous at Maths, so I was deemed to have a learning difficulty. I was then treated differently by teachers and members of staff as a consequence.

I’ve come to realize that the term “learning difficulty” can cause irreversible harm to a young person. When a student struggles, they are examined and labeled a word and thus identified by that word. How can we expect the youths of Ireland to become confident, well-spoken, functioning members of society if we segregate them as being smart or stupid in school?

I had to unlearn the labels assigned to me after I graduated. Nearly five years later, I have completed my self healing process. I now reject the term “learning difficulty”. Instead, I choose to openly tell others (if brought up in conversation) that I struggle with the concept of numbers and spacial awareness. Additionally, I have extreme issues with organization and am prone to anxiety as a result to stress brought on by poor organization.

This is me. These are my shortcomings, but they do not make me “unable”. They do not cause me to suffer from a “learning difficulty”. They do not cause me unmanageable difficulty in day-to-day tasks. At 21, I can say that I am an active, functioning member of society. I will not be a label. I will not fit into a box of gender or social expectation. I will not be defined by what people call me, or what people see when they look at me. I will not be defined by the way I laugh. I will not be determined by who I used to be in the past, I will be determined by how I show myself in the present.

At 21, I am also aware that I still have a lot to learn. And I openly embrace my future experiences and lifelong lessons.

I have only begun to truly regain confidence in my opinions in recent months. In school, I was always shut down. But now, I can express myself freely without being segregated or labeled as a result.

I’m still finding myself, more and more every single day. But every day I notice something new. I notice a different form of inequality. I become aware of our failed education system, when I witness the intolerance and ignorance of young people regarding social issues. Homophobia, trans-phobia, racism, racist stereotypes, casual sexism, rape, victim blaming, etc.

Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t see the point in sending our children to public school at all from age 5-17 or 18; if we release them into the world as ignorant, intolerant or simply dismissive. What’s the point? I’d rather my child understands and rejects inequality and oppression instead of know how to do Algebra or cite a Yeats poem.

But maybe that’s just me. And who knows? Maybe that opinion will change. Because I am always progressing, changing and developing my mind. I’ve come a long way, but I’m still finding myself after all… I think we all are, ’till the day we die…

Aisling Kelleher

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Is Barbie REALLY distorting the body image for young girls?

It seems that we are constantly hearing shudders and disapproving tuts from parents and guardians alike, regarding the Barbie dolls their young girls play with.  I am sure that I am not the only one who has heard statements such as “Barbie makes little girls think that they have to look a certain way”, and “Barbie doesn’t represent a normal woman” being thrown around in the last number of years.  But, are these disapproving remarks actually truthful? Or, is this just an irrational concern?

When I was younger, I played with barbies. I liked to make them prance around the place, often in a somewhat ‘unladylike fashion’, contrary to their flawless, pretty appearance.  In fact, I spent very little time as a young girl concerning myself with what Barbie wore.  I can’t remember ever maintaining the dainty little shoes which came with her – they always became lost in some way or other.  Similarly, I spent little time brushing her hair.  I’d roughly scrape through her plastic dyed hair with a human sized brush, and scrape it back with one of my scrunchies.  My Barbies spent most of their time frolicking around the place like they were drunk out of their minds… no shoes, carelessly dressed, often going around with missing items of clothing, etc.  I gave my Barbies certain personalities.  I remember when I was small, I was not one of these young girls to play into ‘the princess Barbie’; I always found the sporty and sociable Barbie to be far more appealing.  I know that other girls are different, and they spend all of their time sitting in their pristine rooms, brushing Barbie’s hair, dressing her, and of course, maintaining every last one of her colourful dainty shoes.

Some little girls are interested in beauty, the colour pink and fashion – and others are not.  Whichever the case, I fail to see how playing with a Barbie doll can distort their body image.

Barbie was not the only toy we played with when we were young. There were plenty – Baby Born, toy cars, teddies, board games, remote control cars, or even ‘make-it-yourself’ sets (which were referred to as ‘makey-do sets’ in my house).  I cannot speak for the general nation of children, but in our house there was rarely gender distinguishing when it came to toys.  My siblings and I shared our toys.  I didn’t adapt an unrealistic body image from Barbie, just like I didn’t aspire to be a cowboy from playing with a Woody doll.

For the most part, I feel I can speak from experience, and say that toys do not put any pressure on children to become a certain person.  Similar concerns have been expressed regarding video games such as ‘Grand Theft Auto’.  My simple response to this concern is that maniacs, murderers and rapists have been around for centuries.  I fail to see how a violent video game is going to encourage children to act violently.  Also, the game is only suitable for over 18 year olds — so maybe your child shouldn’t be playing it anyway if you do not want these concerns to become reality.

I can safely say that for me, a toy was always just a toy when I was young.  I was never under the impression that girls who looked like Barbie existed.  Perhaps ‘blonde bombshells’ did, but nonetheless they were human beings with non-animated faces and hair that wasn’t plastic. I also knew that Woody from Toy Story didn’t exist, and that race cars required a driver to move, not a hand.

Toys are there for children to create, to imagine, to have fun and to even express themselves.  So, my simple answer to the title of this blog is ‘no’, I don’t feel that Barbie distorts the body image of young girls.  Barbie is just a glorified piece of plastic, with round plastic boobs and plastic white-blonde hair.  Barbie was made out of plastic – just like Baby Born was, and just like remote control cars were.  I was never under the illusion that I would someday become a Barbie replica – and I never felt any of my other friends would either.  I was surrounded by real-life women, who were not made out of plastic and did not have permanent makeup tattooed onto their faces.  I always aspired to be like these women – I never aspired to look like Barbie, or act like her (considering her personality was somewhat bland.)

If anything, we need to concern ourselves with real-life women.  I do recall aspiring to be like Rachel Stevens from S Club 7, or Emma Bunton from The Spice Girls.  Rachel Stevens was awarded the title of ‘Sexiest Woman Alive’ during my childhood; and Emma Bunton often wore very little clothes and behaved very promiscuously in music videos (although she was most probably playing the character of ‘Baby Spice’)

Are these really positive role models for young girls?  Both examples were sexualised in the media.  Barbie was also sexualised; but as I have stated, the difference is that Barbie is plastic. Perhaps we need to be concerning ourselves more with the unsuitable role models for young girls?

But for now, I don’t feel Barbie is putting on any pressure. And, if you think she is, just don’t buy her for your children. It seems pretty simple to me!

Thanks for reading 🙂