Thoughts: Self-Love on the Road
This one's for the ladies. It's a letter to those of you who are inspired to hit the road and not. I'm writing this to share with you how this lifestyle, living out of a van, has brought me to love myself a whole lot more than I used to, and I want to share it with all of you in case you're feeling stuck like I've been for so, so long. This isn't to say that all of these problems are gone forever. But in the grand scheme, they've shrunk down exponentially. In the end, nothing's perfect, but my eyes feel a whole lot wider than they used to be.
Maybe I'll start with something that happened recently. When Richmond and I were back in Berkeley visiting my family for the Thanksgiving holiday, my parents asked me to go through some boxes they'd pulled from the attic. "See what you want to keep and what you want to get rid of," they said.
I opened one of the boxes, a big plastic tub, to find a preserved collection of my old Barbie dolls. From Ariel to Sporty Spice to Pocahantas to SeaWorld Barbie, they were all there. Staring up at me with their large, perky breasts, tiny feet, saucer eyes, permanent makeup, button noses, impossible legs and waists.
In this moment, I was face to face with one of the main sources of my self-esteem issues over the years: my own dolls. The ones that I'd worshipped as a child, that I'd aspired to be like, look like, and that represented careers and dreams and fantasies for little girls everywhere. I hadn't thought about it much, even throughout the years of new stories about Barbie dolls coming under fire for these exact issues. But it hit me like a load of bricks right then, and I nearly broke down in tears. I was shocked, upset, disappointed, and sad. On top of it all, Hilary Clinton had just lost the possible first female US presidency to a misogynist who continually degrades women in the public space. And I'd spent that whole morning crying and feeling deeply depressed. It all hurt. A lot.
"No wonder so many women can't love themselves," I thought. No wonder we're plagued by self-hate and have such statistically low confidence. No wonder Miss Universe and Miss America are such a big deal, and no wonder Trump can say degrading, violent and sexist things about women while others (even other women) will chime in in agreement.
As women, from a young age, we're all trapped by Barbies and ideal pictures of what a girl/woman/lady should be, we've always been told that we have to be cleaner, smoother, tidier, perkier, more ideal. Say less, do more. Be more perfect. Be less ourselves and more what the world wants us to be.
One thing living on the road has done for me is that it's dissolved these insane illusions that surround the social standards that women are expected to live up to. For one, living out in nature, away from the perfect images of what the world tells us all that we should look like, I've discovered a new respect for myself and a new way of living, with a new relationship to the world. In fact, I've largely just cut it out. I've cast off the makeup (mostly), which I wore for years because I didn't feel pretty enough. And I've largely let go of the pangs of hurt and anguish I feel when I see an image of someone that is clearly meant to be ideal beauty. And I see them a lot even on Instagram, and you probably do too.
I've stopped spending so much time tidying myself: shaving my legs, plucking my eyebrows, showering, pampering. In the end, doing these things doesn't make me love myself more at all. If I feel that I need to do them, based on what other people tell me, in the end who am I really doing them for? How does it it make me happier?
On the road, I am enough, no matter how dirty I am. I'm beautiful, I'm resourceful, I'm curious, I'm happy to be in the sun, the mountains, the ocean. I'm in awe of the world around me, instead of focused on how I can do that tiny little thing to make myself better in the eyes of others, with this cream or that lotion or this shirt or that dress. Living in the van has helped me to start shifting my focus from outside, back to inside, where it belongs. I'm no longer running an endless, fruitless marathon to be that more perfect, more ideal woman. It's just not for me.
I wanted to write about this specifically because, especially in the light of the recent election, self-love is such an important conversation that we all need to have together. As women, we need to come together, because together we're stronger. Pitted against each other in a world focused solely on our looks/appearances/surface level qualities, we're weaker. The Women's March this past month has proven that, together as one, we're a force to be reckoned with. If we dress the way we feel, ignore those who tell us to wear dresses instead of pants or "dress like women", we can break down archaic conventions. If we can cast off the advertisements telling us that we'd be prettier if we did x, y, or z, the veil can come off. The more we love ourselves, the more we can love each other. While it seems simple, I guess we have a lot of work to do, unravelling the webs that have been spun around us for so, so long as the "lesser", "weaker", "more emotional" sex.
Living in a van (though it's been a huge challenge in my personal life and isn't always perfect) has changed my life and the way that I see the world around me. I want to spread it around in the hopes that maybe we can start looking at ourselves and each other differently. So that we stop treating ourselves as objects, so that the world stops doing it too. I'm not writing this as an expert, but I do think it took me a whole lot longer than I wish it had because it's a conversation we're not having publicly. Let's start having it, together.
Hopefully this hasn't sounded too preachy (there's my self-consciousness rearing it's ugly head again). I'm not perfect and I'm not saying that I never suffer from self-doubt and intense self-criticism. Because I go there sometimes, and it can be crippling.
I just want to start a conversation in the community, want to get us talking together about our shared experiences so that we can make a better future for ourselves and our daughters too.
As for your life out on the road, maybe it'll be a similar experience, maybe it won't. But it's worth a shot. Especially if you're passionate about being outdoors and connecting with your environment.
Go out on the road and get wild, dirty, inspired, lost in the moment instead of tied to expectations. Out there, no one's picking you apart. Out there, you're free to be the beauty that you are, both inside and out. Forget the pictures of the perfect butts taken from behind looking out the back of the van at the perfect angle. They're fabricated and in the end, hurt us all by treating us women as objects.
Get free from everyone else's idea of what you should be and above all, dig deep to unearth the love and respect you deserve to have for yourself/other women.
Love > Hate
NOTE: I'm writing to women here from a woman's perspective, not to exclude men at all. If these thoughts can cross over/apply to men too, even better. I hope some of them can!