I had a conversation with my friend Gabi the other day. One of those magical conversations with rare people that doesn't have a beginning or an end. You jump from topic to topic and somehow never run out of things to say and never get tired of eachother. As the drinks in front of us shifted from coffees to espresso martinis our topics shifted from our teenage years and our relationship with our bodies, to our partners, to our mothers. In hindsight, one theme seems to extend like a red thread, frantically jumping from topic to topic, keeping up with our caffeinated dialogue. Power. In the unconventional sense. We spoke of the power our mothers hold. The power we have come to find in our self expression as we grew out of trying to fit into a rigid mould. The power we feel in being confided in by our partners. How beautiful it is when they are vulnerable with us.
Since our conversation I’ve been noticing that red thread in a number of places. An instagram video of my dancer friend titled -the matriarchy-, for example. Or the way I felt leaving the gym in a pretty white dress yesterday. And the powerlessness one is faced with a world that refuses to hold your hand. Which brings me to the 16th issue of Dis-Course - Power
Power in Nurture
I know many people say that their mother is the strongest person they know. I don't think that this is a fallacy or a fluke. I think there is much to be said about the power maternal energy holds. Mama bears are vicious for a reason. Protection of one's cubs awakens a tenacity which undoubtedly invokes power. But when I think of my mother I don't think “vicious”. To the contrary, there's not a vicious bone in her body. Her power comes from something much rarer and harder to come by. She is nurturing. I have seen people from many walks of life drawn to her because she holds space for vulnerability. A space many seem to be sorely missing and longing for. She doesn't pass judgement, she will handle your most fragile thoughts and feelings with the same delicacy as she does my great grandmother's crystal whisky glasses. Flowers and vegetables grow in her garden as I have grown in her care. Bees and beetles are drawn to her crops as people are drawn to her energy. She is powerful because she is kind. Of course she is as flawed as she is human. But she grows and continues to choose acceptance and care over hate, no matter what life throws at her.
I feel the power of nurture when I hold my sister. When she's had a bad day at school and needs guidance or to vent. When I hold space for a friend in a tumultuous time. When I hold my lover. When the warmth of affection transcends an adjective and fills the space between two people. I feel the power of nurture when I care for myself by cooking a healthy meal or moisturising my elbows, for example. I feel nurtured when I know I can send my friend a voice note, crying because I miss home and I need someone to help carry my feelings. When I know that her text response will contain a sunflower because they always make her feel better. I feel the power of nurture when my brother tells me we are the same; divisions of the same cells. I was just a couple of years too lazy to follow him into the world. That no matter what happens we are a team.
I think we severely underestimate the strength that comes from caring for one another. Plants don't grow strong under negligence. They require softness and nurture. I urge you, dear reader, to pay attention to the things that nurture you. Whether it's yourself, your friends, or family, draw strength from it. Being soft carries power. There is virtue in vulnerability. Allow your vulnerabilities to be a source of fortitude.
Power in Expression
Last night I saw a video my friend Caroline -a professional dancer- posted. I’ve always been in awe of the physical strength, endurance, and coordination it takes to do what she does, not to mention the immense confidence necessary to embody a genre that puts one's body on display and is perceived as highly sexual. But it wasn't until I saw this video that the essence of what she does clicked for me.
She portrays the power of femininity through her work. The video opens to her in white lingerie, pearls draped over her hips. She's wearing stilettos - her dance shoe of choice - her statuesque silhouette switching from pose to pose, each bringing to mind the iconography of a Greek goddess. With her strong arms and legs on display, she slips into deliberate and sharp movements, one after the other, seamlessly woven together. The song is ‘Mothers Daughter’ by Miley Cyrus and as the lyrics roll through the dance cuts into a frame of her mother and grandmother standing back to back. Then a series of her friends dancing, laughing, one playing the guitar. Then all the women standing side by side, filling the frame with their strength. They each have a stern gaze as the lyric “dont f*ck with my freedom” is repeated. Caro’s self expression in her femininity and her dancing not only reclaims the sexuality that has been weaponized against women for centuries, but she gives the floor to the women she admires. She holds the space. Her power permeates through the screen.
The idea of unapologetic self expression once again tugs on the edge of the red thread of my conversation with Gabi. We spoke of how desperately we both tried to conform to an ideal of beauty back in our teens. Back when we both religiously straightened our hair and followed rigorous makeup routines every morning, without which we refused to leave the house. We swapped our barely recognizable photos from the mid 2010’s and laughed at our skinny jeans and thin eyebrows. But neither of us could help but feel for our teen self. “I know I fit the beauty standards more then, but I’ve never felt more like myself than how I dress now” Gabi said. She’s never felt comfortable in a dress. It’s always felt like a performance or a façade, one put up for the sake of the male gaze. Similarly, the times I've felt most powerful in a dress have been when I feel that the outfit displays my tattoos or my -slightly wider than average- shoulders. I feel powerful when my rings are big and my hair wild; when I have snails on my skin and my feet in the grass.
We each have different anchoring points to the power of our self expression. I have a friend who only feels like herself when she has fresh red nails. Another friend who has his hair blue. Another who doesnt feel good unless he's clean shaven. Another who dyes her pubic hair different colours depending on her mood! All attributes that may feel deeply unnatural to someone else’s self expression. No one can tell you what will make you feel centred and strong - that's for you to discover on your own terms.
Power in Action
I see my friends find their space in the world through promising careers and fulfilling creative pursuits. I have the privilege of witnessing them growing into their power. Starting businesses, directing plays, producing entire albums, playing part in planning worldwide events. I get to see their enthusiasm and enthrallment as a project comes together. A twinkle in each set of eyes; they are driven by their momentum. I fall in love with each of them as their intrinsic power grows. I suppose this quest to figure out what it is that makes you tick is one of the most valuable and crucial quests any of us will ever embark on. The answer comes down to intrinsic power. What makes you feel strong? Not by how you are perceived but by the sound of your pulse. What fills your chest with excitement when you know you can do it and do it well? Allow yourself to be drawn to the pursuit of this power. Not the toxic ‘dog eat dog’ extrinsic one, dictated by an external imposition of meaning -see: wealth, social capital, authority. Pursue the power of fulfilment. Pursue what fills you with enthrallment.
It’s nighttime now and I can see my reflection illuminated by my desk lamp in the window across from me. Pen in hand, I feel powerful.