Artwork by Kayleigh De Sousa
Not everyone in this world is a natural Beyonce. I can’t remember when it became the social norm to be her, but it seems to have always existed. To me, a Beyonce is someone who has complete control over every aspect of their life, regardless of circumstances. She exudes confidence, is unfazed by any change or chaos that may surround her, she knows exactly what she wants in life and where she’s going. As much as we probably won’t admit it, there aren’t as many Beyonce’s around as we’d like to think. It’s difficult to define a Kelly – she’s in amongst the action as much as she flies under the radar. But it’s Michelle that often gets the lambasting. A seemingly unsuccessful dropout, lacking in vocals and stage presence, veering into oblivion if she’s not packaged within her trio. Perhaps Michelle was always following her own path. Perhaps there’s a completely different definition to being a Michelle that’s been right under our noses all along.
Thanks to age-given hindsight and the countless hours of lockdown I’ve spent deconstructing my own existence, I’ve come to realise that I’m a Michelle. It’s a badge I proudly wear. A natural introvert, from an outside perspective it seems like the perfect fit. But being a Michelle unwraps a nuanced number of layers to its meaning (think star signs with less of the spirituality). As much as we don’t want to dwell on the horror months of COVID-19, they’ve played a huge role in my path to Michelle liberation. Looking back, there’s a distinct jagged cut of identity dissociation, almost like the pre-pandemic version of Jasmine lived in a parallel universe. By the end of 2019, I was coming into my own. That Jasmine was beginning to learn what it meant to live without truly caring, going after whoever and whatever she wanted, revelling in the freedom to be more spontaneous. She learned to do things to her own comfort, without any compromises. It’s almost heart-breaking to think about how much shifted in those eighteen months. Kind of like how I imagine the real Michelle must have felt when she had her entire public identity pulled out from under her.
The pandemic taught me something I now like to call ‘repressed energy’. It goes without saying that many months of lockdown were spent in hysterical tears, genuinely holding out no hope for whatever the next day brought (which wasn’t much). But most days simply spawned no desire to engage with anything. It’s a lot more temporary than depression. I’m a firm believer of feeling the energy within you, and the two feelings noticeably differ. This became the first incarnation of my Michelle – the one who doesn’t seem to be doing much. It turns out that these ebbs and flows in down time are completely necessary to function in an insanely alien environment. The sense of spacing out enables you to tap into how you’re really feeling, taking that time to purely rest and recharge that your body and mind has probably been calling out for. After a few weeks, it passes. Like snapping back into action after a long-term trance.
The second incarnation of Michelle is one that perhaps has gripped us all – the lack of social confidence after our ‘unprecedented’ year. I continue to surprise myself with how socially anxious I’ve become (not that I had this completely down in the years before). There can be times when even the smallest trials and tasks feel like climbing a never-ending wall that you’d rather not bother being near in the first place. Figuring out you can take smaller steps to build yourself back up is one thing, but others needing to learn to accommodate this can have you gaslighting yourself regularly. Why am I not back in the park with the masses, boozing up the pub while jostling with the football lads? The simple answer is that I was never like that, it’s just the pandemic effect that’s created a social standing. This is where the much-needed third wave of Michelle comes in. After all that existential time spent worrying, it can give way for individual confidence to shine.
This cycle has come to a point of querying what point of forcing yourself to do things is immoral. You want to push yourself to assimilate into the ‘new normal’, but not so much so that you’re compromising who you are. I’m finding that there’s no blueprint answer for this, instead more of an ongoing check-in with yourself to see what you’re comfortable with. It’s this kind of habit re-forming that has led me to really understand who a Michelle is. Her confidence is quiet, apparent enough to live her life at her own pace, unapologetically. The confidence asserts itself when it wants to, taking moments out of life to recharge without affecting her sense of self. She’s independent, willing to change her path at a moment’s notice if what she does doesn’t fulfil her anymore. Michelle is a fluctuating, complex being, but she’s wonderful. If anything, I hope the future nurtures more Michelle’s who can be empowered just by embracing themselves. If we just let others take life at their own pace (imagine), we’d all be happier for it.