For the past two years, I’ve been focusing on practicality: sublime productivity, getting stuff done. As a university student living abroad, that’s what I ought to do, right? Focus on getting. stuff. done.
And so I did.
Day-in-day-out I’d sloppily slap on some concealer, press in some translucent powder, yank my hair back into a ponytail, slip on my joggers, and head out to the library. I was on a never ending mission of academic success.
In the meantime, I had lost the joy of doing my make-up and dressing up; something I used to enjoy back in high school when life was just a tad bit easier. During these last two years, the only time I’d put effort into my appearance was on weekends. That’s when the complete 180 transformation would take place; when I’d give my eyebrows a little shape, pat in my concealer rather than bludgeon my under eye with my finger, and unveil my mascara wand from the cobwebs in my make up bag. My hair would be unstuck from its usual cowlicked, slicked back ponytail. I’d give it volume – yes, you heard me right, VOLUME – and on good weekends, after an especially productive week, I’d even go as far as curling it as a reward. I’d feel really good and would hi-five myself for investing in my appearance.
As soon as the weekend shenanigans were over, Monday hit me like a bag of bricks and it was go back to the unflattering clothes and shapeless hair. I’d quench my lack of self confidence in my looks by telling myself I was going to school to get my education, NOT to be pretty and cater to the male patriarchy!!! But the truth is, I didn’t feel good about myself – and no amount of telling myself that “beauty comes from the inside” was enough to deflect me from the truth.
It wasn’t just my appearance that was suffering. My mission of living life as a goal-driven, highly efficient woman affected my enjoyment of the little pleasures of life. My appreciation for all five of my senses were diminished.
My room? Bland. Was it a jail cell? A hostel room? You couldn’t tell – it lacked any semblance of personality. “The less I have in my room, the less dusting I have to do!” was my rationale for not decorating my dorm; for not giving it a little sprinkle of me. I couldn’t even justify lighting a candle for some ambiance.
What I ate was affected by my highly mechanized, robocop mentality as well. I ate not based on my cravings or for taste, but rather for MAXIMAL NUTRIENT INTAKE and what was considered the perfect ‘healthy’ balance. That is, carbs, proteins, fats; rice, boiled chicken, and vegetables. A bodybuilder’s diet; a doctor’s exemplary patient. I was completely numb to my body’s senses and cravings.
I had one perfume (why have more? This one does its job!), no facial or bodily creams besides my SPF-infused moisturizer (2-in-1? Count me in!), and all my scented body creams remained untouched since they were first purchased. They were the remnants of my feminine past.
My mindset had diminished me to a one-dimensional canvas. Although I excelled in academia, this way of life took its gravest toll on my ability to feel. I’d been suppressing my emotions for so long in favor of achievement that I forgot what it was like to feel without restraint. Instead of allowing myself to feel, I’d shun myself and try to get rid of those feelings as soon as possible so I could get back to the “grind.”
I was constantly in action mode; I felt so uncomfortable when I’d just let myself be. I’d feel the urge to do something – anything – that would benefit my future employed self. Otherwise, I’d get stuck in a mental rut of feeling everything I’d been avoiding. Living life on the premise of delayed gratification came at the expense of my current self: I was burning out.
The tipping point was when this mentality seeped into the summertime. Instead of enjoying the short time I had back home with my family, I was huddled up on a chair in the living room doing online courses to enrich my CV. That’s when I realized something was off; although it was no medical diagnosis, I arrived at the conclusion that my so called ‘feminine’ and ‘masculine’ energies were off-balance. I was steadily drowning in my masculine energy.
The masculine archetype, in short, “does.” Masculinity thrives on challenges, logic, achieving, and decisive action. The feminine archetype on the other hand, just “is.” Femininity is creative, intuitive, nurturing, receiving, and emotional. These two forces don’t compete with one another in an individual; they complement each other.
Until I had discovered the importance of embodying both energies, I thought emotions were to be avoided. I viewed them as a display of weakness representing a person ‘succumbing to the irrational.’ This resulted in me finding it difficult to figure out what I liked and disliked as I was vehemently refusing to sit down and reflect.
I attribute my unhealthy drive for academic/career success to the enforced Westernized definition of achievement. It’s the hustle and bustle, the constant grind, the never ending ‘bop to the top’ that’s celebrated. Masculine endeavors are put on a pedestal while feminine ones are seen as rewards to said hard work. But I, nor you, could function solely on one type of energy.
This year I have made it my mission to embrace the feminine. It’s been a couple of months since I have granted myself the permission to indulge in things that won’t necessarily raise my IQ or skyrocket me into corporate stardom. I now spend time creating, and daydreaming about, outfits and sophisticated make-up looks as a creative outlet. My dorm room’s adorned with countless polaroids of me and my friends, and its window sills display an assortment of scented candles. I even treated myself to my first manicure and, with the help of gel nails, finally overcame my stress-induced, lifelong nail-biting habit!
To beckon my feelings out of the cave of shame they’ve been retreating in, I also started journaling. I write about everything and anything that crosses my mind, particularly the negative emotions that surface from time to time. It’s cathartic. And overwhelming. Finally allowing yourself to feel the buildup of emotions you’ve been repressing for two years makes quite a change. The toughest emotion I’m dealing with is loneliness: the inevitable byproduct of my exhausting workaholism.
Is there a ‘productivity guilt’ that I have yet to overcome when I take time for myself? Of course. But while I may not be productive in the ‘I’m-assuring-my-one-way-ticket-to-the-capitalistic-slaughterhouse’ way, I am grasping a better understanding of myself. I am, for once, cutting myself some slack and getting to know myself outside the mold shaped by external forces.
So, allow me to (re-)introduce myself. Hi, I’m Derya. I love red lipstick; cinnamon-scented things; my morning ritual of coffee, oats, and True Crime videos; personal, non-academic writing; long, aimless walks; and fashion. Oh, also, I’m a final year Business Administration student.
Photo by Johanna Bommer.