"Who Am I, And What Do I Like?" A Search For Women's Identity (In A World That Wants You To Lose It)

If someone asked you who you are, what would you say?

If they asked you "what do you like?" how would you answer?

Have you ever been asked these questions and had trouble answering?

If so, you're not alone. Especially if you're a woman.

A quick Google search about loss of identity in women produces a list of results that, while somewhat depressing, clearly convey that what a woman is told to want in order to "complete" her identity, can be the very things that cause her to not have a self anymore. Of the results, the top articles are about getting married and having children. A distant third is being in a close-knit, high-pressure family structure with a lot of expectations to uphold the reputation, keep the peace, or continue the legacy of her family of origin.

Our society is based on a self-made model, and the concept of individualism. Women are also groomed by society to believe that they aren't complete unless they're a wife and a mom. This, along with lots of other factors (how women are viewed sexually, how women are setup to fail, and how they're expected to do everything but stay quiet and out-of-the-way) sets us up for an endless string of double-binds. An unmarried woman with a career she loves can feel like she "should" want a partner. A stay-at-home mom might feel that she's no longer "allowed" to be sexy because she's a parent now. A woman who doesn't want kids, or can't have them, likely lives with frequent questions about why she isn't getting pregnant. Women of color, trans women, women with abuse histories, and so many other women seen as "other" by a society whose standard is cisgender, heterosexual, pretty, thin and white, face layer upon layer of assumptions, catch-22s and a constant moving goalpost of what will deem them acceptable by society. When we are so busy trying to be and do what we are told, it often seems like no more room for us. What we want, and what we like, is an afterthought (if it's ever a thought at all).

I remember going through a particularly-horrific breakup and deciding that I was going to throw away everything that my partner had given to me. He had slowly gotten control of all of my decisions during our relationship (a thing that happens often regardless of abuse dynamics), and part of my healing at the time was deliberately making my own choices. He had bought me all of the underwear I owned, so I threw them away and headed to a lingerie store to buy more.

I picked out 6 pairs of underwear. Then I looked at them and realized they were all underwear he would have picked for me. So I put them all back and got 6 more pairs. Ones I knew he would hate. Then I stopped and asked myself, "Did I pick these because I like them? Or did I only pick them because I knew he wouldn't?"

It was so distressing to no longer know why I did the things I did for so long. And this was such a small example. It was underwear! Something nobody else saw, but the decision about it was made by someone else to the point where their preferences were the focal point of my decision-making and not my own.

It was in this moment that I realized I couldn't answer a really simple question: "What do I like?"

Weeks later, a co-worker asked me what I did for fun outside of work. I said, "nothing!" Then she asked what I would do if I could have fun. I told her I didn't know.

If you're reading this, chances are you've said or thought something like this. Alternatively, you may have found yourself wanting something for yourself and feeling selfish for it, so you didn't pursue it (or you did and felt guilty about it).

The reason I've stayed a make-up artist through all the ups and downs over the years is because it has always been something that I like, and through the multiple losses of identity I've had, saying "I am a makeup artist" always felt right in terms of establishing (part of) who I am. In the work, I have gotten to meet so many women from so many different backgrounds, with different personalities, gifts, and stressors too. So often, women sit in the makeup chair and immediately start apologizing or they tell me they want me to "fix" what they perceive to be a flaw. Other times they tell me they are nervous, afraid, intimidated or don't feel like they deserve to have this time for themselves.

When women are getting their makeup done, I ask them questions. Those questions revolve around two themes.

You guessed it: Who are you? What do you like?

We've been tricked into believing that other people get to answer that for us, or that we have to fight to have the answers heard. You don't have to have an answer right away, and the makeup chair is a place where you shouldn't have to feel like nobody is listening. For me, even in the hardest times, I had my morning makeup ritual (bathroom door locked, all my shit spread out, taking my time until it is done... unless you're bleeding, do not interrupt me!). Often it was the only 20 minutes I had solely dedicated to myself each morning. Of course that dedicated time is not going to be devoted to makeup for every woman, and only you can decide what that is in your everyday life.

What I love most about my job is giving you the experience of someone else listening to you, freedom from this idea that you need to apologize about who you are, and creating a space where everything is about establishing answers to those questions that should be easy to answer but sometimes aren't. And I believe that once you have this experience, it might help you to ask those questions (and find answers to them) long after you leave the chair.

To have this experience yourself by booking a makeup lesson, coaching session or personal shopping with me, click the "Contact Angela" button or send me an email at angelamorrismakeup.com

    © 2020

     Angela K Morris