I just finished reading ‘What the **** is Normal?’ last night, and it was balm for my soul. Francesca Martinez’s book is a wonderful, honest and open account of her experiences being ‘wobbly’, as she puts it: her journey towards self acceptance and body acceptance. After going through bullying, social isolation and a self confidence crisis through her school years, she finally found acceptance in the form of a mind-blowing revelation: that the only opinion of herself that matters is her own. No matter what anyone tells us, what messages we get from the world around us – what matters is that we have personal integrity and treat ourselves with the kindness we deserve.
This is a message I still struggle with. No doubt everyone struggles with keeping those negative influences and critical voices away from our inner dialogue and sense of self. Even the most enlightened self confidence and acceptance advocate has to work each day at reminding themselves that they are worth it, that they are wonderful and difference is something to be celebrated. I have bad days – recently these bad days have been a little lopsided but I’m working on it. This is why reading Francesca’s book has been so important to me – sometimes books come along at the right time, and take us through a journey of self discovery and understanding. I love her writing voice – open, honest and like talking to a good friend.
I agree with her that the world we live in has a vicious cycle. Advertisers convince us that we need ‘things’ to be happy, because with this ‘thing’ we can make our lives better and more fulfilling. When that ‘thing’ doesn’t fill the hole in our lives, we feel inadequate and are convinced that buying more will make us feel better. She makes a good case that capitalism is a slippery slope. If people are in debt, struggling to make ends meet, they are less likely to question the status quo (read: politicians). As she says – capitalism makes us all feel bad – it makes us think we will be happy if we just buy that one thing – it makes richer people think that they will be happier with just a bit more money – it eats away at our self esteem and our sense of purpose. It makes 90% of the worlds population slave away in factories to make things for 10% of the world’s population. That doesn’t sit well with me. It is the tension and rotten contradiction at the heart of the modern world.
On the other side of the coin, I’m also not immune to the glitter and pull of capitalism. I enjoy clothes and as you all know, I love buying books. There is something seductive about buying and owning books – and I’m not going to say there is anything wrong with having a passion for clothes and design. I don’t follow fashion though – style is more interesting! I buy far less clothes than I used to because I’m mindful of using what I have (and I can’t really afford much these days), and being more creative with what I already have. With books, I tend to buy more on Kindle, but I still love, without a doubt, the feel of a physical book. In lieu of my own library, however, I realise that being weighed down with possessions can make life more complicated and make you feel less free.
Perhaps the issue is that many of us don’t feel we have a choice. Ethical fashion is often too expensive for people working with a budget. We can’t necessarily afford food from health food shops so we shop at supermarkets because the cost of living is so high. So many of us want to follow our dreams, to be writers, artists, surfers, travellers, philanthropists – but we feel held back – often by money and the ties of capitalism, bills, having a roof over our heads. This is the big dilemma. Yet many people have fought back, have found a way: I’m still searching for the right way for myself. I know there will be many bumps and landslides. I’ll leave you with a quote from Francesca Martinez:
‘Choosing to accept yourself is a political act. An act of liberation. Never stop fighting for it. All we need to be happy is love, fulfilling work, self-acceptance, and freedom from fear. That’s it. It ain’t rocket science. Once you realise these goals are the only ones worth pursuing, life is a lot easier. I like to think of it as training yourself to be a ninja who can deftly avoid the torrent of shit that is routinely sprayed at us from multiple angles. With stunning accuracy.
I truly believe that a world of happy, confident people would be a lovely place to live, so to pursue happiness is not a selfish act. […] And people will be far less likely to want to dominate and oppress others if they’re busy gorging themselves on the nourishing fruits of inner peace. Hell, they might even want to empower others to do so too, which can only be a good thing, right?’ – Francesca Martinez.