Words by Kate-Lois Elliott
I have listened to Goldie Hawn’s Desert Island Discs three times. Goldie is so unapologetically herself, so unconcerned with other people's judgements, so comfortable in her own skin and willing to wave away the haters with compassion and grace. She is completely able to embrace her light hearted, playful, 'ditzy' blonde persona whilst devoting herself to her work and activism (with children’s education in the US) defying the limitations of the box that Hollywood threw her in. The lesson has always been there, but the societal prejudices in place are far from eradicated. Believe it or not, you can be girly AND smart.
When I was at school I was tall, with very blonde hair. I’d also discovered mascara before I'd hit 14. This meant that I got called a 'bimbo' for half my schooling years by about 50% of my peers, simply based on the way I looked, with no regard for my personality, academic competency or the fact that it was just plain rude. To combat this I developed a habit of hunching down, trying to hide my figure and disappear, a habit that would last well into my twenties. At one point I even played up to it, because I’d heard it so many times I thought it must be true. Feeling like a paradox of personalities, I tried hard not to confuse people. I felt that when I got something wrong it added to the stereotype I was showing externally, so I never asked questions, and on top of this I tried to mask my intelligence with colloquial language that I claimed made my words accessible but actually just acted as a shield against attack.
When I got a bit older I took this even further. I refused to admit when I wanted to do things like watch The Sound of Music or go makeup shopping. I dressed in baggy clothes and said things like, 'I have no idea how to apply makeup' to passers-by on the street. I only listened to things like Radiohead and the cheesiest thing I admitted to liking was 1970s Fleetwood Mac. I didn’t want anyone to call me girly, or vain, too close as these words were in my mind to the insults of stupid or bimbo. I didn't want to reveal any ignorance but I also didn't want to be seen as smart: I didn't want anyone to have any expectations of me at all. I was fighting against my love of anything that wasn't cool, high brow and cynical.
Then one night about seven years ago in a bar in Kilburn, a group of reprobate looking youths entered a restaurant that I was working in and sat by the bar. All the staff were told to keep an eye on them by management, presumably because they were talking to each other and buying brandy all over the place. The bar did seem a little quieter but probably not down to anything they had done, more the reactions of the customers who felt they could no longer access the bar.
The manager always put on a cheesy playlist at the start of the night to entertain the bartenders before it got busy, and at that moment ABBA's Fernando came on. I looked around, half expecting that the boys might even leave, offended by the dated music, or worse the judgements that were slowly simmering below the surface of the boujie clientele. The chorus came in, and the boys erupted into group karaoke, which engulfed the entire bar into a tumultuous heartfelt singalong. All of us shook with joy (or was it shame?) that ABBA had allowed us to see past our differences, check our judgements, and enjoy our Friday evening together. After that, I remembered that there is a light-hearted, ditzy part of me, and she is wonderful. Without her, I am a cesspit of doom, gloom and pessimism.
The experiences we have at school often stay with us throughout our adult lives, and no two experiences are the same. Day by day cultural expectations and stereotyping tell us over and over again what we're meant to be, what we're meant to need and like, and what box to get into for the rest of our adult lives. Many people enter the adult world with a seemingly solidified perception of their own abilities, forged by these experiences and unwavering in their course. When we doubt ourselves we’re less happy to be ourselves, feeling like we have to overcompensate or hide.
I am reminded of the episode of Queer Eye where they help the strong, black, lesbian woman realise that to be a valid version of herself is to simply BE herself, and nothing to do with what other people’s preconceived ideas of her identity should fit into.
It’s the sort of thing you hear when you’re growing up, you hear it so many times that it doesn’t mean anything anymore, but there is nothing quite like the incredible relief that comes with not giving a damn what anyone thinks and embracing every inch of yourself. Or maybe you hear it so many times but it doesn’t matter, because it gets drowned out by the numerous ‘you’re not this enough’ or ‘you’re too this’.
We can often be guilty of unconsciously denying ourselves what we truly need in order to be happy and balanced, all because we fear the judgement of others. Just like our daily intake of nutrients, we all need different things to nurture our mental health. Finding balance is a skill, and the small influences that remind us to nurture those facets of ourselves that we might neglect, for whatever reason, are gold dust for the soul. If you need cheesy pop music to remind you that pure joy exists, then go and listen to cheesy pop music. It's OK to not look at your emails and let go of control sometimes, or to ask others for help, or to take time to watch a sad movie and have a really good cry.
Many people saw the Dolly Parton interview that went viral: where a ballsy interviewer asks her if she ever feels like a joke for having the big blonde hair, big bust, bright pink dresses and flashy makeup. Dolly makes it very clear that she is real where it counts, her foundations are rock solid and she’ll do what she wants. She doesn’t give a damn if anyone misunderstands or judges her.
I no longer believe in guilty pleasures, why on earth should you feel guilt about what makes you feel good? I think we can all be a bit more Dolly, a bit more Goldie Hawn, Billy Elliot, Elle Woods and every single member of the fab 5 from Queer Eye. Feminists do wear pink, and strong, powerful humans can also be vulnerable, flawed and fragile. Tune in with yourself, find out what you need and go and get it.
Feed your own version of fabulous, whatever that is: it's exactly enough.
Kate-Lois Elliott is an actor, writer and producer. She has contributed to a variety of projects as a writer, including work for VICE, Caboodle, Femini, Jazz FM, Wandsworth Radio, XYZ Magazine and Theatre 503. Kate co-hosts the Podcast Diversify, which celebrates diversity in all its forms, and has been featured in the Canary and DIVA Magazine. She is also a resident practitioner at Shakespeare’s Globe, and regularly champions first time playwrights and emerging artists with her company Backbone Theatre, who produce theatre and film in London.
Twitter and Instagram: @kateloiselliott
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