What kitchen were you cooked in? I heard this question in a great podcast I listened to this week and loved the image it conjured.
The kitchen we are cooked in, surroundings we are brought up in, have a huge impact on the life we choose as adults. Whilst I was never a Barbie girl…Sindy was always to doll of my childhood, I did resonate with the concept of ‘Weird Barbie’ when I recently went to see the Barbie movie. I think Weird Barbie would have the most fun life of them all, embracing her differences and without the pressure of perfection and achievement.
You know when we were growing up how we all thought our families were ‘normal’, mostly. We thought that everyone else was living a very similar life to us and that we are all doing life to a prescribed formula. The formula for a good life. We somehow believed that if we lived life following this recipe that life would be okay? I was brought up believing we needed to ‘fit in’. Don’t be different, don’t be loud, don’t have an opinion, don’t show off, don’t expect too much. Be good, be nice, be thin, be pretty, be selfless. THIS is what your life will look like. We were programmed to conform and fit inside the box…like a doll.
Daring to be think differently was dangerous. The era I was born into probably didn’t help (70s), also growing up in an immigrant family may also have contributed to this way of thinking. My parents moved from Dublin, Ireland to London, England for work, just before I was born, arriving to open hostility towards ‘Blacks & Irish’. I completely understand why they felt the need to assimilate and not stand out, particularly when raised as Irish Catholics, our family already had a huge ‘rule book’ to follow that didn’t encourage individuality for life.
For the first 30 years of my life I generally followed ‘the rules’ and was ‘the good girl’, with a few blips along the way. I always felt inspired and excited by rule breakers, the bravely quirky, the trendsetters, not the trend followers, but felt that life wasn’t for me. Those lives were for the people who had been born into different families, where that was acceptable and encouraged. They were talented and different. Lucky them. I had no idea they also had to push against ‘the norms’ to bravely be the people they were meant to be. For me it was to be a perfectly 'normal life' and be happy with that.
My parents married and had kids young, so I got married and had kids relatively young. It is funny (not funny) that one of my biggest worries as a child was ‘what if nobody wanted to marry me?’ I never even imagined a life that didn’t centre around marriage and children. I was not encouraged to ‘see the world’ or talk about what career dreams I might have. Girls were expected to meet a nice man, get married and have children.
As the eldest child of five you can imagine my astonishment when my youngest sister had the bravery to break with the perceived expectation for life. Also quiet growing up, and 15 years younger than me, she arrived into our family into a different time and really a different family. After leaving school she moved to Brighton (south coast of England) to go to Uni. The next thing I hear she is DJ-ing in nightclubs and music festivals, wears the coolest clothes and has tattoos on both her arms and legs... and my Mum didn’t say a word! By this time I am married with 3 kids living in suburbia, my life is more concerned with school zones and having a socially acceptable house in a nice area than finding myself. I truly couldn’t understand how she got to have this life. Why didn’t she have to follow the rules? It hit me in the face when I realised that I had been so busy ‘fitting in’ in my life that I hadn’t stopped to question whether I had had a choice. Up until now my life had been about keeping everyone else comfortable and happy. That’s what I thought might life ‘should’ be about.
My journey to find out who I was began in my early 30s. The kids these days will probably have this worked out a whole lot earlier, thank goodness. As a parent, one of the strongest drivers for me to start living my life as my true self, no matter how scary that might be, was that I wanted to give this example to my children. How could I tell them to go out into the world and be brave enough to be themselves if I wasn’t doing it.
To be sure there have been lots of scary times since that discovery in my 30s, but every challenge has been worth going through. Personal growth is never easy. During this time painting and creativity have been the safe places where I could dare to try and dare to be different. Painting has helped me slowly discover what I truly love and it constantly reassures me that it is your superpower to be different and put that on show in the world. Sharing that, so that everyone else can see that they also get to be themselves. Normal is boring. The world doesn’t need more boring. When I was young I KNEW I wanted to be an individual, but I didn’t believe it was possible. I wanted to wear clothes that nobody else had, so I made my own. It was so inspiring to be a teenager living in London in the 80s, absorbing the work of artists and musicians who dared to be different and I wanted to be like them. In my art practice I am still never content to reproduce paintings. To me it is so important that each painting should be unique. My goal is create with freedom and I want that to come through in my work, always hoping that will inspire the viewer to feel the same.
Dare to be different. Be brave, Always be You