When Illness met Femininity

When I was at Catholic primary school I cut my hair really short because I liked it on the lady who read the news on the TV. However, naive little Jasmine didn’t consider the repercussions of such an act i.e. a cute freckled girl with lovely hair cutting it short so it could be out the way. But now I realise I was a feminist superstar since my first “Amen.”

Looking back at growing up and being able to identify how my femininity was being shaped by others is saddening. Especially because feeling like you’re doing something wrong without knowing exactly what it is might just be the most anxious feeling ever. I didn’t realise that girls were meant to have longer hair. I didn’t realise I had to keep my knees together when I sat down, even if it was uncomfortable. I didn’t realise that football is for watching. I didn’t realise that kiss chase is compulsory. I didn’t realise that energy is bad and silence is good. It also took me a while to realise I had to laugh at jokes I didn’t find funny. Oh, and if I date a boy that supports Liverpool I too have to support them. But don’t worry, I didn’t have to remember the names of the players, or do anything crazy like explain the off-side rule.

Even during high school I, along with a lot of my friends, found it difficult to truly identify with the people we were becoming. It wasn’t a time of discovery like puberty is supposed to be, but instead it was a time of learning. Learning how to talk politely and walk unoticably. Learning what to wear, how and when. Learning how to make people like you. Learning how to be smart so it’s cool but not too smart that you’re a nerd. Oh, and how to be attractive without looking desperate. These unwritten conditions loomed for ages and they’re not to be manipulated. They are so contradictory that it was a lose-lose battle.

This is why it’s important to understand that femininity is embraced by only some people but also in many ways. Make up is a form of expression for some and a source of confidence for others. Tight clothing makes some feel good and baggy clothing is comfortable for others. Nobody can determine what is feminine and there is no scale in which to rate it upon. Even those who choose to accept femininity as a part of their being, we cannot ridicule how they individually sculpt it.

This is why for me my femininity is compromised by illness, because it has stripped the core of my being so insidiously that I didn’t notice for a long time. I was controlled by something else similarly to the way expectations of femininity control us.

I hope that in 10 years time I won’t be looking back identifying the way illness has shaped me, just like the unwritten code of feminine development in my school years. I don’t like that medication has assumed it can make me feel bad for what I look like, just like the boys in my class who hated my hair. I don’t like that I can’t walk up a hill because my joints hurt too much. It’s painfully similar to not being able to get involved in sport. I hate how I can’t wear tight clothing because my intestines are so inflamed I look as if I’m going into labour. It isn’t even funny to joke about looking pregnant. The most annoying aspect of chronic illness is losing touch with my own relationship to femininity, especially to the part that makes me feel like a powerful woman. If I don’t seize control then somebody else will.


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