Embracing the Monstrous Woman: Transforming Shame into Creative Power

Embracing the Monstrous Woman: Transforming Shame into Creative Power

I didn’t choose to be a writer; I simply am one. Every time I tried to walk away from writing, it pulled me back kicking and screaming. Every time I surrendered to it, it tore me open and painted pictures with my blood, made art from my insides.

Creativity is brutal, and delicate as gossamer threads.

I stopped being a tortured artist a long time ago. Stopped being one altogether, for a while. First, I was busy with my master’s degree, then falling in love, and working soul-destroying temp jobs. I always had an excuse. My inner writer had been struck with a painful disease since 2018, and last year, it finally killed her off.

That disease was shame.

But luckily for you guys, I write science fantasy. The rules of nature need not apply. Inner Writer Eliza resurrected as a zombie, and came back to haunt you all.

So, let’s talk about monstrous women.

Women are not allowed to be ugly. It is programmed into us from the moment we’re born: our value comes from beauty, from thinness, from our supportive silence, our ability to fade into the background. We are not allowed to explore the darkness, let alone embody it.

When we do let women be villains, they are mad women locked in attics, or wandering the halls in cobweb-covered wedding dresses. We do not let our female villains be ugly. A madwoman? A murderer? Sure. But not ugly, because in a patriarchy, that is the worst thing a woman can be.

Ugliness is a theme I have struggled with throughout my life. It is an insult so old I can’t remember the first time I heard it – usually coupled with fat. As someone who has been varying levels of overweight for her entire life, I have a complicated relationship to ugly. The two words fused together so many times in bullies’ mouths that they lost their individual meaning. At 24 I still can’t always separate my weight from ugliness, and therefore from my value as a woman.

In literature and films, the evil woman and the ugly woman play different roles. Evil can be intoxicating, beautiful, tempting. The ugly woman is a monster, grotesque and unforgivable.

I shy aware from ugliness. In my writing, in myself. I can write about disturbing themes, but I have never quite embraced the dirt, the horror, the repulsive. Deep down, I have a need to make even the most horrifying stories beautiful. Because I learned that there is shame in being ugly.

Shame is a complicated thing, as a creator. To be gross for a moment, being an artist is like vomiting. Sporadically, spontaneously, and often uncontrollably. Creativity is a way of purging. But once we have purged our shame, we leave ourselves vulnerable to an ever-deepening level of disgust. What they don’t tell you about monstrous women, is that our outsides are a protective ward. Once you pierce that mirage, you’ll see horrors beyond your imagination.

In a world where women are taught to be beautiful, voiceless dolls, nothing is more horrifying than a woman who speaks the ugly, unrepentant truth.

As a writer, I have lived intimately with shame for many years. It holds my hand, it sings me to sleep, it crawls into the furthest recesses of my mind and whispers my deepest fears. Shame has kept me trapped in stasis for so long it embarrasses me to admit it – another sprinkling of shame to add to the heap.

I don’t know what changed. Perhaps I humanised my monsters. Give Dracula a bad haircut and he becomes comical rather than cruel.

Ultimately, it wasn’t a change in mindset, a grand epiphany to shift me away from the spot where I had frozen in fear. It was watching how other women handle shame in their writing.

There is power in telling our stories. There is also power in choosing our audiences. My deepest shame around writing doesn’t come from the experiences that lead me to write what I wrote; it comes from the aftermath. I spent years second-guessing everything I wrote after that. Nothing kills a muse like a premature audience.

Healing my relationship with my writing means going to the root of that shame. It’s not, as therapists have suggested, a matter of learning that other people don’t have power over what I write. Frankly, I don’t believe that to be true. Social power is real. The way people respond to our actions shapes us. It haunts us.

Healing shame isn’t as simple as deciding that other people’s opinions don’t have power over you. Working through shame comes from sitting in the discomfort, allowing yourself to feel ugly. Allowing yourself to be the grotesque woman, the worst kind of villain out there.

There are a handful of times in my life where I’ve truly let myself sit in uncomfortable feelings, for weeks or months at a time if necessary. Those were the only times I was able to truly move on from painful past experiences. If we don’t feel our emotions and let them pass, every time we think back to the shame-causing event, we live that feeling over and over. It takes us right back to something that is no longer our reality. Healing comes from feeling, from inhabiting the hurt within our bodies and minds. Healing comes from staring shame in the face, and saying “so what? This is me; I am ugly. Is this the worst thing I can be?” Beautifying the disgusting will only get you so far. Real healing comes from confronting your shame, and daring it to do its worst.

I have tried to avoid writing in recent months. My novel felt like a lost cause, blogs were a minefield for me, and the only place I felt comfortable writing was in my diary.

My work as an astrologer is largely comprised of writing. A lot of it. Each full birth chart reading I do is upwards of 20 pages. I write more as an astrologer than I ever did as a student, or as a writer. It felt like a compromise, a way to be creative without pouring more salt into my writer’s wound.

As I began to think of how I could explore the parts of astrology that interest me most, rather than solely focusing on birth chart readings, I stumbled onto a path that closes a long and painful chapter. Each loose end knotted together perfectly, and I began work on a project that ties together all the themes I have worked on independently for years. My work as an astrologer; my exploration of the myth of Persephone and Hades, which was the central theme in my novel; feminism and female empowerment; and shame, the way it impacts us as artists and creators.

As an astrologer, I want to move away from just doing birth chart readings. They are the first step, but there are myriad ways that astrology can transform your life, and I can’t wait to show you them. I thought it would be a long time before I came back to writing as a place of safety, a place of excitement, a place where I could fully be myself. Every challenge I’ve faced around my writing has taught me transformative lessons about what it means to be a creator, and how to utilise shame as an ally rather than an obstacle. I can’t wait to use the lessons I’ve learnt to help you with your creativity, to use the stories and symbolism of astrology and mythology to help you transmute your shame into artistic power.

Are you ready to take a walk through the underworld with me?

Tomorrow I will announce the details of my new project, coming 03.03.22

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