I like myself. It’s taken a long time to realise that I’m okay; to stop measuring myself against benchmarks where I always come up short. Obviously not literally. I’m a tall person. Tall people are perceived as confident and powerful and capable. It’s how I see myself. I always thought I had high self-esteem, but realised that was just my low self-esteem trying to bully me into submission. It’s a survival mechanism. It hasn’t always been easy. It’s a process.
I am a 54-year-old full-bodied tall woman. I have never known what it is like to be invisible. I have sometimes wished that I could have a week, or at least a day, of being smaller. Of being less visible, less obvious. What is it like to be petite? I will never know. It would have been nice sometimes to go unnoticed. I have spent my life being too noticed. Like a billboard that vandals can spray their vitriol onto.
People have always commented on the way I look. Like my bigness is some sort of aberrance that means I belong to the world, not just myself. Like I’m a building, not a being, and the rest of humanity has been asked to make submissions. I’ve had the most wonderful, flattering things said to me and some less than flattering. Of course I tend to remember the less flattering. I wonder why people do that? Why they say things that could be hurtful? Or comment when it’s none of their business? The other day someone said, ‘I sometimes don’t know if you are a man or a woman.’ I was surprised. It’s not something I would ever say to anyone. I don’t think I would even think it. It confirmed something I have always known about myself, that when it comes to fitting into the Cinderella shoe of the very binary feminine, I’ve always been an ‘Ugly Sister’. Then the person recognised the silence that descended on the room and tried to save themselves with a lifeline: ‘you look like a woman tonight’. Thanks.
Of course it was a man; a self-appointed member of the gender police. It was a man I was taller than. And a man over whom I had more power. I was high status, he was low. The inference about me being a man dressed as a woman was meant to diminish me, to make me feel less-than, to shame me.
It reminded me of what an older woman once said to me…
She had dementia, so I forgave her. She had lost the filter that edited harsh comments, although I never knew her pre-dementia so perhaps it was never there in the first place…
She said to me: ‘It’s such a shame’. I said ‘What’s a shame?’ Then she said ‘For a tall girl you have such a pretty face.’ I was taken aback. ‘Is it not good to be tall?’ She looked at me like I was an idiot and quipped ‘No! It’s very mannish.’ I laughed. But it stuck. All these years I thought I was an attractive woman, but had I been going through life as a ‘pretty man’? An ‘Ugly Sister’? It’s clear that when it comes to narrow confines, like a lot of people, I just don’t fit the glass slipper. Fuck fragility.
Gender and identity is vast. For many, this Cinderella shoe isn’t ours. It’s painful. It gives us bunions. We’re into Blundstones or Birkenstocks. Some of us don’t wear shoes at all. As a straight cis female this gives me the smallest insight into what it feels like to have other people pass judgement on where you sit in their binary gender world.
I am unique. I don’t have to conform to any reductive idea of masculine or feminine. And it’s no one’s business except mine. Show other people respect and realise that gender and sexual identity is diverse – thank god. Otherwise the world would be so bloody boring. I’ve stepped up as a Give Out champion for Queer Family – who are fundraising for flood-affected LGBTQIA+ community. Help improve mental health and reduce social isolation by supporting Queer Family.