I recently took part in a project started by LA Mother (a creative agency and network of artistic, smart, incredible women – check out their Facebook page here) called #notadirtyword. The premise of this project was for women to take a word they’ve been called sometime in their lives – specifically a word with a negative connotation – and reclaim it. Example: slut, bitch, crazy, dyke, etc. After choosing a word, you were to write it down and take a picture of yourself holding the sign. It’s been so incredibly inspiring seeing women – from all over the word – post photos on social media reclaiming a variety of words.
In lieu of this project, I’ve been thinking a lot recently about all the negative things I’ve been described as over the last 25 years and how that’s impacted me.
For starters, I’ve been called a bitch more times than I can count, and for a variety of reasons. Usually the word was tossed in my direction when I stood up for myself, asserted my opinion, or said “no.” In high school I was labeled flat chested and anorexic. I was super skinny and gangly, and my lack of breasts and curves led some people to make fun of me. At one point, people I’d thought were my friends decided to start labeling me ugly, awkward, and weird. In college I got called a slut…a lot. My penchant for short dresses, stiletto heels, and making out with guys earned me additional titles like whore, home wrecker, and cunt (I was called these things by girls and guys). In several relationships, my partner’s were quick to call me emotional, crazy, and psychotic. One of my more recent exes liked to describe me as a “crybaby” which is the word I chose for my part in the #notadirtyword campaign.
Basically, I’ve been called and labeled a variety of unsavory words. But for the last few years, I’ve been an advocate for taking back these clumps of letters and turning them into something positive - and powerful.
Of course, I still have moments where someone else’s words threaten to shatter me. Being an extremely sensitive person means that the slightest critique, insult, or meanness can send me into a downward spiral. I’ve come a long way in shaking it off (thanks Tay Tay!), but I’d be lying if I said I never felt hurt by someone’s words. Sure it sucks when a stranger calls you something rude (I got called a ‘stupid whore’ by someone driving by while I walked down Melrose Ave the other day), but I think the insults that really impacted me were the ones uttered by people who supposedly loved me. I got called “crazy” so many times in one of my pervious relationships that I began to believe it was true. I became convinced that I was the root of our relationship’s problems, and that if I could be less “crazy” then things would get better. This belief followed me into subsequent relationships, where I often prefaced things by explaining, “well, I’m kind of crazy, so it’s probably my fault/I’ll probably mess everything up.”
Projects like #notadirtyword have really helped remind me lately how important it is to reclaim the names we’re called and not let them define us negatively.
Last week, my therapist said something that truly resonated with me. We’d been talking about my past, and how I’ve spent most of my life defining myself by all the terrible things people have said to me or about me.
“Augusta,” she said, looking at me with an intensity and sincerity that gave me chills, “No one is the holder of your truth but you.” I burst into tears almost immediately, because, in that moment, everything made sense. It doesn't matter what anyone else calls me or says about me – they don’t know me, they aren’t me. I decide what sort of person I am, and that’s what matters.
So fine, you want to call me a bitch? Cool, I’m a confident, hardworking, opinionated, girl boss.
A slut? Okay, sure, I like sex, I love my body, and I respect and cherish that about myself.
Weird? Ha. In my opinion that’s the greatest compliment. I’m different, unique, and one of a kind.
An emotional, crazy, crybaby? Yeah, I’m a sensitive, caring, deeply feeling person. I’m incredibly sympathetic, and that means I spend a lot of time being concerned and feeling things on the behalf of other people. I cry (a lot), because I have compassion, empathy, and dreams that overload me with crashing, roaring, raging emotion. I’m so incredibly proud of my ability to feel and the fact that I’m unafraid to break down and be vulnerable.
I’m a weird, slutty, emotional bitch and I’m FUCKING PROUD OF IT. I decide what those words mean, land whether or not I want them in my arsenal. Those words will not bring me down – they will propel me forward. I am the holder of my truth.
Join the #notadirtywordcampaign – check out the page here!