I am a privileged person. I am white, able-bodied, straight and grew up in a rural area of a first-world country with both parents and access to education. In the lottery of life I am pretty darned lucky with my God-given face-value lot.
But I am also a woman in world that favours men, a single parent who, six years ago, suffered from acute post-natal depression and anxiety. I don’t have a degree and a short time ago was jobless and relying on benefits to support myself and my two children.
And I find it increasingly hard to balance these two versions of myself.
Admittedly it’s only recently, mostly through the community and gentle education of Instagram, that I’ve been truly aware of the privilege I’ve enjoyed. My parents may not have supported my cis white butt through expensive London internships so I could break into the media world – I battled my way in via crap entry-level sales jobs instead – but I have always had the safety net that, should the shit hit the fan, I could call them up and borrow a couple of hundred quid to keep me going.
(Though I spent an uncomfortable few months surviving in a toxic cycle of payday loans in my early twenties because I was just too proud to ask for their help).
I’ve never known the absolute unfairness of being denied job opportunities or common courtesy because of the colour of my skin, though I’ve fought through both gender-led work-based sexual harassment and discrimination.
My religion – I have none – has never prompted strangers to shout abuse unprompted at me on the street. But I’ve experienced my fair share of intimidating and threatening behaviour from males.
I’ve never been hired on a zero-hour contract with no guarantee of work and fluctuating benefits. But I am self-employed with no dependable income because it was too logistically hard to go back to work, particularly with a daughter who has chronic medical needs.
I’m privileged, but like so many others that privilege has been tempered with a fair whack of tricky life circumstance.
Last week I chatted on Instagram about how I’d worked a difficult sixty-hour week which led to me taking an hour to myself to have a manicure. It’s a big part of what I teach in my courses; to nurture yourself to so you are able to nurture others. “Put your own oxygen mask on before anyone elses!” I say. “You can’t pour from an empty cup!”.
For me on that hard-working Friday, my nurturing involved getting a £30 manicure. Six years ago my nurturing would have meant a bath and a £3 magazine. But the principle is the same: I wanted to feel like I’d spent an hour just thinking about myself – not my kids, not my clients, not my students – MYSELF. Because if I don’t take that time to stroke my own hair I’m not able to stroke anyone else’s effectively.
Is that a weird metaphor? Maybe. You understand.
“Authenticity and vulnerability are traits that are non-negotiables both online and off”
After this story about the manicure I had a DM from someone I’d been friendly with previously, telling me how ignorant I am of my privilege, and how do I think it would make single mums working zero hour contracts feel when they saw me taking more ‘me time’ having just come back from a holiday?
I wrote back saying it was never my intention to make anyone feel bad, but that as this is my Instagram account it is a space for me to recount the things that happen in my individual life. Which, six years ago, was single motherhood, mental health and benefits. But now, is building my business and manicures.
“Authenticity and vulnerability are traits that are non-negotiables both online and off: this is my current truth”, I said in a DM. “I am intensely aware of my privilege but I need to balance that with pride, confidence and real-life, too”.
The parting shot I received was how the ex-Instagram follower was looking forward to the Instagram bubble busting soon, so I and other influencers would get what we deserved for shilling snake oil, which I felt invalidated the conversation somewhat.
But it’s still left me thinking hard on this subject of privilege, pride and advocacy.
Like so many of us I’m out here doing my best in what is an increasingly difficult world. I’m lucky in so many ways to be born in this country, in this body, to my family: but at the same time as recognizing the step-up my life circumstance has given me I don’t want to disregard the effort and grit it’s taken to travel the path to where I am today.
“That’s what’s driven me from the start of my journey as a single parent, when I realised I had a voice that had been subdued”
I’m not slogging my guts out on the front line of the NHS and I am completely in awe of those who do. But I did spend the early years of my children’s lives working three jobs so I’d have the knowledge and experience to start my own business. I’m not working with children’s or women’s charities, making tangible changes in the lives where people need it most. But I am trying so very hard to demonstrate to women who perhaps feel as hopeless as I once did that it’s achievable to pivot your life to be happier than you ever believed possible.
That’s what’s driven me from the start of my journey as a single parent, when I realised I had a voice that had been subdued. I have wanted to connect, shout louder, empower women to reach for the stars. And by god have I realised it’s so much easier for some to do that than others, but it’s a situation that’ll never get better unless we all of us listen and learn with open minds and hearts
I can’t change the world but I can do my best to make my tiny portion of it that little bit rosier for those I touch.
The guilt I feel at the fact I was born with privilege will never abate: it’s something I notice and appreciate daily. It is my promise that I will continue to educate myself and my kids on how we can be allies in the best way we know how.
And all these things can be done with a manicure.