On the Right to be Complicated or Why we should all read ‘Up at the Villa’ by Somerset Maughn.

I had an idea for a blog: ‘Big Titty Traumas’. It was going to be flirtatious and a little bit feminist. But feminist in a good way. I like to believe that my brand of feminism is one that men can relate to. If I can make feminism funny and sexy and get just one man to feel less threatened and more on board then I feel I’ve done the world a service. I’d been planning this blog for a while.

The trouble was that before I got to write it, I had an awkward conversation. Same subject but approached outside of my control and when I tried to respond I couldn’t find the funny. All I managed to do was dredge up a bunch of unresolved upset. It turns out that hidden beneath the large breasted flirt still lurks the little romantic who felt very bruised by the world of sex and men when she was young.

You see, I became a teen in the 90s. The era of Baywatch, when large breasted women were either frumpy or sex objects with nothing in between. When it was near impossible to so much as a buy a bra in my size and those that I could buy basically fell into two categories: the granny and the Slut. One more or less covered me up to my neck making most fashion more or less impossible and the other was clearly designed for women with implants as it offered no meaningful support whatsoever and the girls would be making a bid for freedom before I so much as left the room. I’d aim for pretty and get wench, quirky and get slutty. My body betrayed me at every step of the way. Sure, the boys liked my boobs, but not in the way I wanted. I’d developed my notion of love and sex through reading Shakespeare and the romantic poets. I was looking for a Benedict to my Beatrice, a Jamie to my Nina, not a parade of men and boys who wanted nothing more to get their hands on my norks. I was good enough for a fumble, but I wasn’t girlfriend material. Lusted after, not loved. By nineteen I was thoroughly done with romance. I remained stubbornly a virgin until I was twenty three and decided to pursue relationships based on more practical criteria like trust, safety and being a good team. Not the dream of my youth but far preferable to other the option I had explored at the time, that of cutting off my breasts, shaving my head and taking to a life of seclusion.

Until that awkward conversation, I hadn’t realised how much of my identity, at least on line, is a projection. A coat of armour that I learned to wear when I was young. It protects the soft underbelly of a girl who likes camping and reading poetry and philosophy but was generally assumed to be a bimbo whose breasts got bigger through repeated pumping. That’s not to say that I don’t like sexy lingerie and my words about reaching my sexual peak are an honest reflection of where I was at the time, but that’s not all that I am. I am both the woman and the romantic young girl and, equally, I am neither. I am the point at which the two interject: a messy, complicated work in progress.

Which is how we come to Somerset Maughn. The blurb on the cover says that to deny love is to deny life itself. A trite and dishonest portrayal of a story that is quite harrowing in some ways. Our heroine is not in love with either of her suitors as the book comes to a close. She chooses the one that Sees her (the choice of a capital letter is quite conscious). The one who has seen her at her worst, making terrible choices with tragic consequences, and sees the naivety and romanticism that drove them. He helps her clean up her mess, putting himself at terrible risk, and loves her all the more for it. He Sees her, all of her, the beauty and the horror and loves it all. And she Sees him, not for the mistakes he’s made, and he’s made plenty of his own, but for the insightful, courageous and sensitive man that lies beneath.

Modern living, powered by social media, is a constant exercise in image creation. We project the image that we want the world to see. Finely honing every nuance, filtering photos, choosing the best image, the ones that show us as we want the world to see us. The social ape constantly craving acceptance and appreciation. We want to be loved. But ultimately, that love, the love that is based on the image we project will always fall short. It will always prove hollow and any praise that we receive will always miss the mark because we are not the images that we project. We are more and less and everything in between. The more likes we chase the emptier we will ultimately feel.

We are all a messy conglomeration of impressions and images. The people we are deep down, the parts we hide, the parts we’re afraid to share and the parts we project. What we really long for, when we long for acceptance, is not the acceptance of the many for the finely crafted image that we have chosen to show. It is not the applause we receive for the carefully articulated performance of the person we think the world wants us to be. What we long for is love and acceptance for the person that we really are. It’s not enough simply to be seen. We want to be Seen. Deep down in all our complex beauty.

It’s okay to be flawed, It’s okay to be complicated. It’s okay to make a mess of things. Someone is going to love you, all of you, anyway. So maybe it’s time to turn off your social media and look at the people around you, the ones who have seen you at your worst and loved you anyway and, if you feel that they aren’t there, then reach out into the real world. Pursue the things that you love and be the you, you really are, because they are out there. I know they are.