“[Y]ou should lie to people to get what you want; you can make things happen for yourself just by acting confident.” — Kathleen Hanna in Girls To The Front, on the start of her writing career
“There was a point when I realized that you could get away with just about anything so long as you do it with conviction.” — Cherie Currie in Neon Angel: A Memoir Of A Runaway
I find both of these statements so, so powerful, in so many ways; in part because to hear it from both of these strong, strong women, it’s a signal that, yes, women have to work harder to get what they want, but in part because that idea of inventing yourself, of behaving like the person you want to be instead of the person you are — or people think you are — is so close to my heart.
I spent years hiding, hibernating, shoving the self I wanted to be under the rug and back to the shadows, because I am also a people pleaser. I don’t like confrontation; for ten years, all of college and a large portion of my adult life, I presented myself as the person — the quiet, polite, conciliatory person — that the people around me wanted to be. In my heart I wore motorcycle boots and vintage dresses, but in my life I wore demure heels and tops that didn’t show too much cleavage.
When I started taking photos, I didn’t know anything about anything. Not about photography, technically; not about how you should build a career. I just … did it. I wasted film, I learned things; I got told no by publicist after publicist when I aimed too high, I aimed a little lower until I got a yes, and then I asked the high points again. I still got told no. I asked again, and again. More and more, I heard yes.
I have never lied outright to anyone. I wouldn’t do that, because it would compromise my integrity. But even when I was begging my friends to pep talk me into sending pitch emails, I acted, to publicists and bands, like I could do anything. I did everything wrong, but I did it with conviction. Then I invented new things to do wrong, fucked them up, and did it with my head held high. When I decided I wanted motorcycle boots, I bought them. I wear them everywhere. Fuck demure heels, I can kick your ass. Tops that don’t show cleavage? Sure, if by “don’t show cleavage” means “vintage dresses that do show off my back tattoo”.
I didn’t change. I didn’t invent myself. I just let the girl with the confidence out to play, instead of being the mousy girl in the corner not causing waves. I’m the photographer in the boots and the dress, the one with the pink hair (well, pink hair in another two weeks). I’m really fucking good at what I do. I faked my way into being good at what I do, but now the truth is that I am good at it. Great at it, even. Sometimes I hold my head high and walk into places I don’t have permission to be. If you act like you’re supposed to be there, people believe you.
It isn’t lying. It’s believing in yourself. It’s knowing who you want to be, and working hard to be that person. Wanting to be someone different than people think you are, there’s nothing wrong with that. Knowing your own skin and finding out how to be comfortable in it, that’s important.
I have a Post-it note taped to my iMac — I have a lot of Post-its taped to my iMac, but one in particular — it’s a quote from Michael Caine. It says, I ran my life exactly as I wanted to, all the time. I never listened to anybody. I listen to people, the people I trust. But I also run my life like I want to. I have grown up, in my 30s, into the woman I’ve always been in my heart, and the woman I was too scared to be in my 20s. I’m me. I do things my way, and sometimes that’s messy and awful, but often it works. I don’t lie, but I am confident and proud of myself and my work. I work hard, every single day, to be great at what I do. To get better. To make things happen for myself. It’s confidence, and hard work, and failure.
And it’s lead me to success, and all I can do is thank the women who came before me, the ones who held their heads high and believed in themselves, for setting that pattern.