My midlife awakening: ‘Who the hell am I now?’
"Discovering who we are can be a confusing thing for a woman. Partly because we are plugged into the patriarchal matrix from the moment we are born, shackled to the societal expectations of what a Good Girl should do and look like. And partly because we can get to a point when our sense of identity is more often than not defined by our relationship with others – daughter, sister, mother, wife, partner. It’s not easy for us to declare who we really are, and what we really need.” says Alana Kirk.
“When having it all can feel a lot like just doing it all”
Alana’s work as a couch supporting other women to navigate the pressures of juggling career family and change has seen her write three books and appear recently on the Tommy Tiernan show.
"We’re not sure about who we really are and so we pretend to be fine when we’re not. We pretend we can manage when we can’t. We pretend to smile, we pretend that our needs don’t matter, we pretend that our to-do lists actually make us happy, using them as a stick to beat ourselves with. We pretend we are ok with the ideal of beauty being dictated by others” she explains.
But often it’s a case of asking ourselves; who the hell am I now?
In an extract from her book, Mid Life Redefined, Alana explains her experience.
“Like a lot of women, I’ve had a love/hate relationship with my body most of my life. Have I undressed and lathered myself in un-firming self-loathing as well as the firming lotion? Yes. I have a curvy figure and so because Kate Moss was the body ideal when I was in my formative teenage years, I came to ‘believe’ that my thighs, hips and boobs were something to be slightly ashamed of.
Even at my marathon-running fittest, I was never going to be skinny, always curvy.
Horrifyingly, I see how my teenage daughters are trying to squeeze their normal, beautiful bodies into a ‘skinny’ shaped mould, distraught and self-critical when surprisingly they can’t. How many women have hated their body, linked their sense of identity to someone else’s dictate of what the ‘in’ body type is?
Our sense of identity is so linked to how we look, yet we have no control over the standards set of how we ‘should’ look. In just the last hundred years, every imaginable body shape has been in style. From the busty, tiny-waisted Gilbert Girl, to the 1920s Flapper of no cleavage, no waist, or ankles on display for those Charleston moves. From the curvy Hollywood 1930s sirens to tall and angles (think torpedo bras) of the 1940s. Then the Barbie hourglass becomes the ‘norm’, and ads for bust cream appear in magazines. Suddenly Twiggy is the ‘It girl’ and an ad for girdles uses a picture of a pear, captioned ‘This is no shape for a girl.’ (I kid you not.) Then the long, lean Disco Queen, and it’s all about legs and the onslaught of the Super Models. But no sooner have we stretched ourselves and bought the push-up bras than the 1990s Waif look becomes the aspirational body beautiful. We entered a new century but were bullied by the same old bullsh*t with the pressure of exposed, ripped abs and most women now just want to lie down and eat a bowl of Doritos. None of this is real! Women come in all shapes and sizes, yet at any one time, huge swathes of them are made to feel unacceptable.
I see women walk around shrouded in shame, because they will never be dressed in ‘ideal.’ Everything from our physical shape to our hair colour are held to account, bombarding our sense of self. The point is beauty is a fully constructed thing. It’s also exhausting. And having it all can feel a lot like just doing it all.
“Do you ever wonder why you haven’t ‘arrived’ yet, welcome cocktail in hand, Insta ready, with all your boxes ticked? Surely with all the effort you’re putting in, life should feel easier? The
power of your own belief system is critical to how you see yourself, yet often you believe stuff that was handed to you and never challenged. As such you can easily live an identity given to you by a distracted dad, an overwhelmed mum, jealous siblings, a catty friend, an abusive partner, a disenchanted teacher. You take a throwaway comment, a faulty narrative, a societal expectation and carve yourself out of other people’s views. As you grow from child to adult you forge your personality to fit a script rather than from your own imagination, painting a picture of yourself using a colour palette that doesn’t match the skin you are in. You spend so much time worrying about what others think yet
rarely consider if they could be wrong.
Those Russian dolls I mentioned? They exemplify perfectly how women layer themselves in roles until their core is hidden. The small solid nugget is you with all your innate traits and talents, quirks, likes and dislikes. But soon you add a layer as you strive to meet the expectations of your culture, society, parents and upbringing. You might then add a layer for your role in society and career. Then you add one as a partner, another as a parent, and finally, by midlife, you have formed the outer doll that contains all those layers.This is the one you present to the outside world composed of the Facebook happy shots, meeting the Good Girl expectations, the way things are done and all the ways you might conform and even contort yourself to fit in. It’s not that all those layers are fake or necessarily bad. But they are roles you play, layer upon layer, often smothering the core inside.
Reconnecting to yourself means turning on a light, the light you so often brightly shine on others, on yourself, on that core, looking at which beliefs serve that core and which do not. Looking at what
you really want, and how you really want your life to feel.
The thing I discovered was that not only were many of the beliefs I had about myself not true, but that the ones that were revealed I was a confusion of complexity. I’d believed I was meant to be
straightforward, so I often hid or resisted parts of me that were conflicted.
These are called self-sabotaging beliefs, because they sabotage your sense of self and stop you feeling or being who and what you can. You are born full of potential, a blank slate, but are slowly funnelled and shaped, conformed and confirmed until you have been moulded into a shape not always of your own making. You add yourself in as an afterthought but to live well, you have to start with ‘Who am I?’ and then every input and output feeds that. This is a challenge for those of you not
used to self-reflection. I certainly spent a few decades, resigned until my late thirties, that my external and internal identities were two entities with only a small overlap. But in order to flourish, that
overlap needs to be as large as it can be – your external connected and reflecting your internal.”
Alana’s book is a self-guided exploration culminating in a handbook for a bespoke midlife manual. She has this advice to women who sometimes feel as if they are disappearing.
“I’m going to ask you to do something most women don’t think they’re very good at. And the ones that are tend to be called bossy and brazen, as if that’s a bad thing. It wasn’t the ‘done thing’ when we grew up, to shout about our successes, glorify our goal scoring, or brag about our best bits. Self-congratulation was not something a Good Girl did. If we are to redefine the way mid-age has been lived and perceived, abiding by the Good Girl rules of putting others first, not making a fuss, not being too opinionated, too proud, too anything is not going to support us. When someone compliments our outfit, instead of saying, ‘Oh this old thing? Got it in the sale,’ we could say, ‘Oh thank you!’
Instead of asking ‘Does my bum look big in this?’ we could say, ‘I love the way this top makes my boobs look so good.’
Imagine if you pumped yourself up, rather than put yourself down? Imagine if you admitted you were good at stuff, rather than pretending you’re not in case you offend anyone? What a world
that would be...”
Alana Kirk is a coach, author and speaker. She can be found at www.themidlifecoach.org and on
Link to article in IMAGE magazine - https://www.image.ie/editorial/my-midlife-awakening-who-the-hell-am-i-now-748947