Being alive is very stressful. There’s so much to contend with: climate change, Brian McFadden’s tweets, the press cycle every time a new season of Stranger Things is announced. Every day a fresh hell, especially now that nobody over the age of 35 seems to have a fucking clue what’s going on.
But what if, in addition, you have the misfortune of being a woman? What if you are constantly marketed strange devices such as clamps for your eyelashes and anti-wrinkle cleavage pads? What if you are led to internalise ridiculous things such as "you must be likeable" and then have to spend the majority of your adult life squeezing them out of you like blackheads?
From womb to the cold earth, women are sold many, many lies. Here are some of them:
Low-Rise Jeans Are Good
There has been a backlash against Topshop recently, as a series of allegations about sexual harassment and unethical labour practices has led critics to suggest that perhaps a multinational fashion retailer flogging feminst slogan T-shirts made by children is a bit hypocritical. Nevertheless, it has been a beloved British institution for decades, undoubtedly peaking around the mid to late 2000s, when they pioneered the regrettable tunic, launched a line by Kate Moss comprised mainly of Glastonbury #lewks designed for women who would faint if they spent more than an hour standing up, and exclusively sold low-rise jeans.
Topshop is responsible for many terrible things, and while this may be bottom of the list, I will never forgive them for robbing me of what high-waisted jeans have since proven to be my greatest attribute – my arse – during the most insecure and sexually formative years of my life.
You Need to Shave Your Arms
I have a vivid memory of having a bath at my best friend’s house around the age of 13 and shaving all the hair off my forearms. She was two years older than me and had mentioned earlier in the day that she did it because she "didn’t like body hair". Naturally, I assumed the reason must have been sexual and shaved all mine off as well, not wanting to be undesirable, even though I had barely kissed another human who wasn’t a blood relative at this point.
I realised a week later, when my arms felt like two cactus shafts, how foolish it was, but that didn’t stop me doing it again once they’d grown out. The mainstream argument of whether it’s feminist to have body hair (it literally doesn’t matter) typically revolves around armpits, legs and sex bits, while the removal of hair elsewhere is much less talked about as it's rarely a concern for white women. I have no idea where my friend of Irish decent got the idea that her faint auburn arm hairs needed to go. Suffice to say, neither of us do it now and nobody should feel compelled to slather their entire body in Veet unless they’re training for an Olympic sport.
Fast fashion is killing us all (and the planet). See also: disco pants, cold shoulders, boob tubes, trilby hats, bodycon anything, shoe boots, them wet-look leggings, blazers with jeans, boot cut jeans, long necklaces, maxi dresses, wedges, espadrilles, wedge espadrilles and, most of all, tiny fucking sunglasses.
Discharge: A Cause for Concern
Amy Schumer has only made a single solid joke her entire life, and it was when she said: "Tonight, I had one goal. To take my underwear off at the end of the night and not make it look like I blew my nose on it" at the Glamour Awards. Discharge happens. If it smells like the bin at a seafood restaurant, then sure, look into it – but there is barely cis woman on Earth who can go a day without being able to take a chisel to their pants at the end of it.
All Fingering Is Heavenly
Lesbians have perfected fingering as an art form, but as far as everyone else is concerned there are two types of fingering. One involves mainly external stimulation and a lot of spit. The other is the kind you may have experienced as a teenager or a particularly unfortunate 20-something, when someone takes their trigger fingers and jackhammers them up you dry, just like PornHub taught them.
The first is lovely. The latter is ineffective at best, and a harbinger of thrush at worst, but unfortunately the kind many people will experience first. This is particularly common for women who sleep with men, for whom "being fingered" is often the next rung on the sex ladder after over-the-clothes stuff – before handjobs and blowjobs, even – which is strange, because an inexplicable number of men then go on to spend the rest of their lives categorically not eating pussy.
There Is Only Space for One Woman
This is a lie and it isn’t a lie. Men often think there's only space for one woman in a professional context – their unconscious bias is everywhere – but regardless of whether it's true in each specific example, you have to bulldoze in, in the assumption that no one intelligent actually believes this. Otherwise you'll limit yourself and start to think of other women as the enemy. There is space for everyone.
You Will Be Happy If You're Thin
So lmaooo, when I was 21 I had what I will call "a breakdown" and went what I will call "fucking mental". I was very lonely and depressed, and longed for control in some aspect of the life that was blowing up around me. I think I subconsciously decided that the one thing I could dictate was my food intake, and, as such, my appearance.
Even though I’ve never been plus-size (and obviously, the pressures on plus-size women are much larger and more stressful than the ones I have experienced), I had always wanted to be thinner. I’d yo-yo dieted throughout university and would go through regular periods of forcing myself through a "yogalates" DVD played off my laptop every morning.
Since I was a child, I’ve had a difficult relationship with food and my body (when I was in year two, a supply teacher asked my class what we’d wish for if we could have anything; I said "liposuction", having recently learned what it was) egged on by the media. It’s impossible not to be influenced by the type of woman who is exalted in our society, or by the constant carousel of celebrities who release an exercise DVD or a diet plan and then go in Heat, talking about how much happier they are Now That They Are Thin. This stuff leaked into me throughout my life, absorbed through my pores, and seemed to suggest that everything would be solved if I could just shift the extra weight off my tummy.
When I experienced my first real bout with mental ill health, low self-esteem grew into full blown anorexia. At my thinnest, I weighed six stone, and I was fucking miserable. Looking back, I can firmly say it was the worst period of my life. Now I’m trying hard to be OK with myself as I am, finding that really difficult some days and having a pizza anyway. I’m not about to sit here and say that everything’s rosy or that I have fully Embraced My Body. But I can confidently tell you that I’m much happier now that I’m not punishing myself all the time, and am allowing myself to subsist off a diet of more than, like, Pret soups.
You’re Definitely Getting Abducted at Some Point
There was a period around the age of seven to nine in which I would put clothes on top of my pyjamas after going to bed because I was convinced I was going to be abducted – and this was a good decade before Madeleine McCann became a cautionary tale for every nuclear family. I saw it as an inevitability, almost, treating the whole thing with a strange pragmatism: if I'm going to get "taken", I thought, at least it won’t be embarrassing because I’ll be wearing trousers. We’re hopefully preaching to the over-12s here, but: don’t worry, child abductions are very uncommon in the UK.
You Read Too Much Into Everything
Being super attuned to the tone of someone’s comments to you? Getting a gut feeling when you’ve been looked over for a work project? Know when you enter the room if someone’s been discussing you? Two things are happening here! Number one: Yes, you’re just sensitive and smart! Number two: many biases are ongoing and you’re just consciously/subconsciously processing them. Sometimes, yes, we’re feeding ourselves negative thoughts. But much of the time? "We’re being too emotional!!!/paranoid/extra/irrational", AKA responding rationally to the reality of the situation.
People You Date Will Notice Minute 'Flaws'
Not to go all Jameela Jamil on you, but when you shag other people, they’re basically just gassed about you being naked. They aren’t seeing your half grown out pubes, your cracked toenail polish, that your arsehole isn’t bleached (don't actually know anyone who's had this done, just love Bridesmaids – funny women exist, lol) or whatever it is that means, before a date where you’re going to bang, you race home from work and shave and soap every part of your body like you’re about to go undercover as a naked mole rat. Just chill.
You Can't Go Swimming On Your Period
On a heavy day this might be risky in a leisure centre pool, but for the majority of your cycle you can plug up and swim on. I had many a summer holiday ruined before I realised that period blood pretty much ends up in the sea anyway. You might as well cut out the middleman and liberally freebleed your way around the Costa del Sol in a black one-piece.
You Can’t Have Sex On Your Period
The only people who won’t have sex with you on your period are also the people who will eat your ass and then immediately try to kiss you.
You Can Go Horse Riding On Your Period
Women in tampon adverts are always doing things like playing tennis in whites, or riding horses, or whatever the fuck. And technically I’m sure you, like, can do these things. I just feel like, when my entire body is cramping because of the nucleus of pain located in the bit between my belly-button and crotchal area, all I want to do is put my head in a plastic bag of nuggets and maybe eat four Nurofen at once for a treat.
In Monogamous Relationships You'll Get Cheated On with Someone Younger and Hotter
Weirdly, cheating is usually random. It leaves you sitting in the wreckage – moments that seemed off, social media clues, weird looks – wondering: why them? The answer is: there is no answer, other than they aren’t you. It was all right place, right time, and this other person was different and new and there. How often have you comforted a mate and stalked the Instagram of the person they were cheated on with, and thought, 'Pointless hurt...'
We’re programmed to believe there are hotter, younger, thinner versions out there, but it's all just lies! Lies!!
You Have to Say Yes to Everything
Dudes say no all the time. That’s standard behaviour for them. Whereas we’re taught that if we don’t cushion our no's with a few haha's and lols and idk maybe laters, everyone will think we’re cold-hearted and "difficult", or else the other person will be mortally and irrevocably offended. All of that is bullshit. Saying no to stuff is important. Without sounding too much like a pastel-coloured Instagram slogan, your boundaries are worth prioritising more than the feelings of other people.
Brands Will Empower You
This article originally appeared on VICE UK.