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How Shredder Women Taught Me To Own My Flaws

We’re ending the year with personal essays from The FADER staff. Today, Leah Mandel on being inspired by artists who let their guards down.

December 15, 2015

Back in May, I walked into Brooklyn venue Baby’s All Right and saw Alicia Bognanno—a chick who used to be an audio engineer and now shreds the heck out of a guitar as the lead singer of Nashville band Bully—belt out I question everything/ My focus, my figure, my sexuality/ And how much it matters or why it would mean anything. The song in question is “Trying,” the standout track from Bully’s debut, Feels Like. Hearing Bognanno wail about her insecurities got to me because I question everything about myself; I seesaw between knowing I’m whip-smart and beautiful inside and out, and criticizing every thought that goes through my head. In the past, I’ve been stubborn in my insistence that I not betray any glimpse of weakness. This year, I began to acknowledge that there is more than enough space in my life—and the world—for me to make mistakes.

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In 2015, I saw women everywhere allowing themselves to be very publicly less than perfect. When I saw Katie Monks, lead vocalist of Dilly Dally—Toronto’s most pummeling punk foursome—perform “Desire” in Brooklyn this November, she screamed almost unintelligibly at the top of her lungs, Snakes are comin' out of my head/ And there's blood between my legs, and her ferocity ignited me. On “Kill V. Maim,” from Grimes’ vivid, ruthlessly unguarded Art Angels, I heard Claire Boucher croon and roar, 'Cause I'm only a man, do what I can/ If sometimes you see that I'm mad/ Don't you know, no one alive can always be an angel? and was reminded not to get angry with myself for letting my emotions get the best of me. I also played Courtney Barnett’s “Pedestrian At Best” on loop for a good while this year, and every time she drawled, Put me on a pedestal and I’ll only disappoint you, I saw my own exasperation, mirrored ever so succinctly.

This spring, I expressed to my mom all the remorse and anger I felt at myself for having wasted time with a person who shamed me for being human instead of a specimen of chill perfection. My mom, who is a very wise lady, told me that there is no such thing as wasted time. Wasted time doesn’t exist because every moment you're alive, you are learning what you like, how you want to be treated, and what does and does not work for you. The mistakes I’ve made don’t define me, they’ve helped me learn who I want to be. This year I filled my ears with women who owned their flaws and their ever-changing emotions, and they helped me feel at home with my own.

I turned 25 this month. On my birthday, I told my mom that I hoped I’d keep on growing emotionally. She let out a little chuckle and told me that my relationship with myself will always be in flux; there will be times when I feel strong and times when I will struggle, and times when I won’t know what I’m reaching for. There is a poem by Elaine Kahn, published this spring in her City Lights spotlight collection Women In Public, called “I Know I Am Not An Easy Woman,” which is comprised of just these four lines: I have seen a million/ pictures of my face/ and still/ I have no idea. This brief poem moves mountains in me because, well, I know that I am not an easy woman—I am not an easy woman to control, I am not easy to understand, and sometimes I am not easy to get to know. And I will probably never feel like I know exactly who I am, but I reserve the right to take up space trying to figure it out.

How Shredder Women Taught Me To Own My Flaws