in conversation with Charlotte
our womanhood ~ chapter IV
As part of our latest campaign, we invited our community to take part in a shoot for womanhood. As with all our images, they remain untouched.
We had a chat with Charlotte about what womanhood means to her and the journey she has been on.
For the longest time my womanhood was tied to the men in my life. Privately I felt defined by the differences and contrasts between myself and my male friends, my father, my brother, my boyfriend. I only felt truly feminine when surrounded by men. When amongst other women I felt manly and that didn’t feel good because I thought that I needed to feel feminine in order to feel close to my womanhood. Looking back that is hardly surprising given the patriarchal society I grew up in and how those views were enforced during my adolescence. It’s only been in the last few years, as I became single and spent more and more time in the protective and nurturing space created by the women in my life, that the relationship to my womanhood has shifted to something that isn’t as context-dependent as it once was.
Over the last few years the relationship I have to my womanhood has changed quite dramatically. I feel more connected to it as an intrinsic part of my being and I am trying to celebrate daily the ways my womanhood manifests. The wisdom I get from the seasonal nature of my body and how that guides me in my everyday. The way my empathy and openness allows me to connect more deeply with my creative collaborators and the people in my life. The infinite ways that I get to interpret my femininity which to me is entwined with (but doesn’t wholly define) my womanhood. Nevertheless the road has been and is far from smooth. I still struggle with situations that make me feel at a disadvantage in my womanhood - a big one is saying no and letting that word be a full sentence that doesn’t need an explanation. But I also know that fully accepting my womanhood, separating it from the patriarchal education of it that we have been given, as well as its inevitable transformation and evolution across the course of my life is one of the most important tasks, and where I will find my ultimate strength.
My body and I have had a relationship that I can only describe as tumultuous... It started off so positively but was dashed early on by bullies at school that weren’t satisfied with how I presented as a girl - which made boys my safe haven. But boys become men and along the way I soon found out that my own development during puberty made me a target during theirs. With supposed “compliments” I became incredibly self conscious and started to police my body. What once was a home for my soul became something to be policed. Constant dissatisfaction with my entire being meant that leaving the house to go to school was nearly always punctuated by multiple changes of clothes and I wove elaborate lies to get out of social events. Thankfully my friends were relentless in their insistence that being with me, whatever that meant that day, was fun and so I relaxed and I started to let loose. But in times of tension or pressure in school, university, my relationships to people, etc the policing of my body started up again.
Eventually the psychological torture I was putting on myself resulted in a chronic illness. What once were mild intolerances became causes of intense pain. It’s no wonder that over the course of nearly two years of daily pain I developed depression. This in turn became a vicious cycle of pain, sadness and more pain. It didn’t occur to me, until multiple doctors couldn’t pinpoint what exactly was wrong with me, that the issues I had with my stomach was more likely to do with how I had been cultivating my mind than any physical malformation.
During the height of my chronic illness I dissociated with my body - seeing it not as a home but as the root of all my misery. I came to hate it - even saying so aloud to my then boyfriend and friends. My weight dropped, and all the curves that had been such a prized part of who I thought myself to be disappeared. I grieved them along with the life of socialising, drinking, dancing and having wild adventures that I will never tell my parents about, and that all my peers were still getting to experience. Where once I had feared social situations I now craved them - and I came to resent every night out planned that I knew would most likely result in my crying and in pain. I didn’t know how I could ever be happy again.
Once again it was the people in my life; my boyfriend, my friends and my family who supported me - who made allowances and adjustments so that I felt less like a burden and more like myself. But still the private relationship I had to my body was toxic - I lived in a constant state of dissatisfaction and criticism - and this toxicity bled to infect everything I held dear. My weight fluctuated wildly, and I always grieved the body I had prior to the one I was in in the present. As I gained back the curves I had lost I looked back through old photos and fawned over how defined my cheekbones were - completely ignoring the fact that I had been in incredible pain and miserable because I couldn’t eat. As I lost my appetite and my chronic illness flared up again following my heartbreak - a pain that is still totally indescribable and incomparable so I won’t even bother - I mourned the loss of all the kilograms and pounds, and the ultimate feminine body that I thought would bring me joy. Again completely ignoring the fact that I had been fetishising my sick body even whilst having the curves I now craved... My mind was sick - and I couldn’t go on making myself this miserable.
Then Covid came and suddenly all I had was time with my thoughts. What a curse! What a blessing! Again my weight fluctuated as I sat at home finishing my degree, and though I once again mourned my old body and the jeans that wouldn’t fit over my thighs, I also watched myself as if from afar. Who was this person who couldn’t even look in the mirror anymore? Who googled extreme weight loss techniques at 2am? Who believed that the loss of weight would mean the gaining back of happiness and “my life”? Who was this person? As terrifying as it is to now say this, I had become a total stranger to myself and I realised that with the loss of so much on a personal and global scale I had also lost all love and faith in myself. I would love to be at the stage where I can look back on all that and say that I’m healed - that I now fully love and accept all that I am. Sadly today is not that day. BUT what I can say is that I’m getting there.
I celebrate the fact that I am no longer in pain - in fact, that pain has taught me more about myself than anything else, and I am still learning all the time. I am looking in the mirror again and getting to know the woman who is looking back at me - sometimes I smile and pull a silly face, and yes, sometimes I still grimace and look away while pulling my stomach in all the time wishing I was 10kg lighter... It’s not a linear path, and in times of stress I often find myself down the well trodden path of utter dissatisfaction in everything that I am. There are still situations that I shy away from, that I don’t feel ready to go into in fear of running that familiar script of “not good enough”, and that’s okay. I am learning how to be patient with myself. I know that things will inevitably change and transform and that includes my body. And I also know that that doesn’t make me less than. So it’s worth it to be a little kinder, a little gentler and a little more loving because I have no spare body. It’s time to treat this one with the care it needs so it keeps allowing me do all the things I love.
The fact that I not only applied to do this shoot, but also left all my worries and fears at the door (promising them that I’d pick them up when I’m done) was more surprising to me than anyone else. I think I’ve arrived at the point where I am just so tired of hating on myself, feeling embarrassed for not having shaved ANYTHING even though I couldn’t care less in the privacy of my own room and constantly criticising myself for the food I eat, don’t eat, the exercise that I do, or don’t do. I’m just so tired... Being in front of a camera to me is terrifying, I often find myself in total division over how I look in the photo versus how I look like in my head. But see, that’s not really what ends up shining through. Prior to the shoot I looked through the website and saw all the total goddesses of every shape, size and colour and I was in awe. I wanted that, I want to feel beautiful, fuck everything else - and especially fuck the world which thinks that there is only one way to achieve that!
Charlotte wears two Lilac sets from The Nude Label