The sunlight pouring between the bedroom curtains isn’t what wakes her each morning. It’s her kids, shouting at each other and throwing blocks in the living room that does it. “I swear to God,” she mumbles to the cat. She pulls the covers over herself and spends the next three minutes summoning the strength to get out of bed. Some days, it’s because she’s depressed. Some days, it’s because she pulled back her son’s hair while he threw up on his T-Rex pillow at two AM. Some days, it’s simply that she was up late having sex. Whatever the reason, she just isn’t a morning person.
As she falls asleep each night, she tells herself she will go to bed early tomorrow and drink more water. It is in these final moments, before her eyes close, that her to-do list runs through her mind, accomplished by the person she keeps saying she will be. And all this time she spends trying to catch up to her dream-board version of who she is, she doesn’t value the actual her.
Sometimes she doesn’t care about her body, and sometimes she’s too aware of it. Sometimes she loves it and feels empowered, sometimes she examines it in the mirror and struggles to find something she likes. She browses photos of when she was out of high school and feels guilty that she can’t summon the willpower to turn a 30-year-old body, one that has birthed children, into an 18-year-old one that hasn’t yet left childhood itself.
When she goes shopping, she feels bitter and frustrated because nothing fits. She believes this is because she bakes cheesecake for the holidays and enjoys Doritos on a Wednesday night; she vows to stop, thinking that doing those things is wrong. She’s a woman who falls in the grey zone of body types. She finds no representation in either the plus-size or thin modeling world; she’s an unconventional shape, or simply medium. She sees every fold and dimple underneath fluorescent fitting room lights and doesn’t understand why H&M size 8 won’t go past her thighs, but Gap size 6 is too big.
She believes her body is the problem and she reads articles that keep telling her no, it’s the clothing companies being inconsistent. And somewhere in her heart she knows it’s true, but it’s all white noise when she’s flooded with shame after asking the 19-year-old salesclerk for the next size up. “Two sizes, I think,” she quietly says.
This woman is an in-betweener.
She’s part of fitness groups and she has weeks when she churns out four days of exercise and manages to get in ten glasses of water. Then there are weeks when she forgets it’s been four days since she’s had a workout. She doesn’t realize that she has more stamina than she knows; it comes from running after her kids and taking them on walks to the park or around a zoo. It comes from running to different meetings, hauling boxes into her new apartment because she has no one to help her, or racing down a flight of steps to catch the train on time.
She might be really crafty, or her skills might be dreadful. She might be the kind of woman who’s good at projects when she gets enough materials beforehand, but is exhausted after just one afternoon of trying. Most of her style comes from Target, and she feels bad it isn’t West Elm, but Target has seriously upped their game. She tries to decorate her house the way Pinterest taught her, but she doesn’t have the budget for it. Rooms come together slowly over the years, and her bedroom still needs covers put on the light-switches, having been removed during a paint job she did in a last-minute need for change.
She constantly aims to be “crunchy,” but Costco has amazing deals on granola bars and try as she might, the kids go to school with Goldfish crackers. She’s managed to get most of the things she needs by thrifting, and she tries to buy ethical clothes because she knows kids work in factories somewhere far from her world, but she still gets emails from the Gap and Old Navy that are hard to ignore. She can’t pass up the ability to get her two kids’ back-to-school clothes for less than $150, because these days it takes two incomes and they don’t have that.
She knows deodorant is full of chemicals, but none of the natural stuff works. She knows her dish soap is far from clean, but it cleans her dishes the best.
This is a woman who loves her family, who works tirelessly and yet she feels like she isn’t doing enough because her contributions are not monetary. It’s because when she scrolls through Instagram and sees a woman’s beaming face with her manicured hands hugging her well-dressed kids, she feels a pang of loss. She starts to mourn all the time she’s wasted not working harder to be like the women she follows. When she sees an Insta-story with kids exploring the outdoors, she vows to take her kids tomorrow. Sometimes she does and it’s great. When she’s lying on the grass and the sun is slowly tanning her arms, she asks why she doesn’t do this more often; when bedtime becomes a huge ordeal because her kids are overtired, she remembers why.
Or maybe she’s a single mom, or not a mom at all, but a woman who works too much and can’t afford meal prepping. Not necessarily the cost of the food, but the time it takes to make the food when she’s finally home and can sleep in on weekends. Maybe she’s tired because she’s bisexual and fights to be acknowledged as real, or she dresses masculine and has a picture of Janelle Monáe on her bathroom mirror as the only person reminding her that it’s fine to be that way. Whoever she is, be it single or gay or transgender or married, she comes up empty-handed when looking for representation, because she isn’t really hardcore one way or another about a topic or lifestyle. She doesn’t fall into any category, because she does a little bit of everything. She enjoys different things in life because maybe committing to two or three things would deprive her of more experiences. Or maybe she’s just too tired.
This is not about a woman who can’t live up to her potential. This is a woman who doesn’t see that “potential” is a very subjective construct, and it’s almost impossible for anyone to ever fully meet theirs. If they did, growth would cease, and that’s the exact opposite of success. This is a woman who sets goals and sometimes meets them, sometimes doesn’t.
This woman is all of us.
Her passions don’t necessarily make her any money, and sometimes they do. Sometimes she’s an artist who makes incredible cross-stitch portraits, or she works at a bank, or she coaches other women, or she sells essential oils, or she’s really great at ice skating. She might have a phenomenal singing voice, but is crippled by stage fright.
She is complex, and she has bought into the idea that she should do more, be more, because other people try hard to look like they are. She is every woman who has holed up in the bathroom or taken a smoke break at work even though she quit five years ago, and it probably isn’t because she was mad just then. It was because she has reached a point where the pressure to meet goals and deadlines and ideal versions of herself has finally ruptured. She has ruptured because she feels that every action that falls short of the dream-board is a failure. She confuses human nature for wrongdoing, and if she actually does fail, or make a mistake, she doesn’t give herself grace or forgiveness. It takes awhile to get there, and usually doesn’t happen until someone else has given her permission to.
She is Jocelyn, who openly says, “I love the idea of clean living. I’m that old lady who likes farm life, fresh air and small towns. But I’m also a mom. And own a business. And have a chronic illness. So I buy chemically laden products as time savers because unfortunately, life doesn’t buy us any more time than we have, and things just have to get done.”
She is Claire. She loves “surprising someone with a ‘just because’ gift.” She is Jessica, who “mostly” has her shit together. She is Ashley, who is “gluten-conscious” because she isn’t quite there yet, but is pushing hard because it helps her son. She is Leah, who has overcome the impossible to be where she is today.
Maybe she’s Chantelle, who is a plus-sized queer woman who enjoys her sweatpants but feels pressure to dress up the way many plus-sized women are expected to, as if their fatness is allowed so long as it’s styled right.
She’s Dana, who confidently admits to being a “100% not crunchy, unhealthy eating couch potato.” She’s Jennifer, who is a great problem solver, yet struggles with food. And Pam is an “overweight triathlete – not the back of the pack-er, but certainly not on the podium.”
She is proof that weight does not measure health. This woman is Melissa, who calls herself a “squishy hourglass” and has a successful coaching business. She is Cassandre – a mom of “very busy boys” and kicks ass at it.
She is almost every woman you know, and someone you might try to measure yourself against, but can’t. Because for all of these in-between habits, these attributes and ways of living that aren’t extreme, I am not talking about a woman who is average, or ordinary. I don’t believe such a woman exists. These women are phenomenal and unique, yet admit to struggles that are painfully similar to one another.
These women are alienated from the mainstream, yet they are the ones who give us sustenance. This woman is the one filling our lives with joy, not the Pinterest version. She is the best friend baking a pie, the barista who remembers your name, the mom drinking too much wine so she can keep the incredible conversation going. This woman has no official representative, and yet she herself represents so many others. She is the sum of all the components of humanity. She is life personified.
She is a woman who chases her dreams, but deserves to be at peace with who she is today. She is a woman in need of grace and acceptance. She is you, and she is me. She is a woman in-between.