The Instagram star and badass feminist talks to DIVA about her game-changing new book, Women Don’t Owe You Pretty
BY GEORGIA BUTLER
Florence Given is a vibration, a two-mile deep seismic wave here to thrust this world tits-first into the future. It is in this way that she is also a contradiction. For as much as she is forward-facing, her fashion sense could not be more 70s.
I can’t help but see a little symbolism in her clothing style. Strong lines, strong patterns, strong colours… strong. Fearless? Probably not (but who is?). Brave as hell? Bloody undeniably.
I long to give her a bio, a “Floss is primarily a…” paragraph. But I am not sure where to start. So, we will go alphabetically. Floss is an activist, an artist, a badass, a feminist, a queer woman and, most importantly for the purposes of this article, a writer.
I started following Floss on Instagram around a year ago, after my friends bought me one of her hit-the-nail-on-the-head prints featuring the quote, “maybe it’s a ‘girl crush’, maybe you’re queer!” (in my case it is the latter, I can assure you.)
It doesn’t take long for you to feel like you know her, or at least the version of herself that Floss presents on social media. The proportion of this that is formulated for a following versus her authentic self is irrelevant. What matters is the effect she has on her audience, how she empowers women – young and old – to find their authentic self. To realise that, as she describes it to me, “the essence that we’ve been socialised to crave, convinced that it can only be found in the bottles of make-up, the compliments from men or in diet shakes – is already inside of us.” Her upcoming book Women Don’t Owe You Pretty is an extension of this – or perhaps, more accurately, a purposeful manifestation.
When I asked her what she hoped her book would achieve, she told me she wanted it to piss people off; to make them angry and to make them uncomfortable. Because nothing changes when we’re comfortable. I can’t help but agree with this sentiment. We have seen it throughout the centuries: revolution after revolution. And the reality is that Women Don’t Owe You Pretty does just that. I read it with a sick feeling of guilt in my stomach, for every single time I had put down another woman, even in my own mind, or betrayed myself by failing to say “no” when it mattered most.
Her book causes the reader to self-reflect. Yet she also explores where this mindset comes from. The way Floss explains it is “that their [women’s] hatred for themselves, their bodies, and other women, is an intentional effect of the patriarchy to keep us ‘bickering’ and self-loathing, while they continue to profit from our insecurities. Anything that does not align with your pleasure and loving the shit out of yourself is a distraction, and it’s your responsibility not to choose distraction, but to choose yourself”.
To choose yourself. A simple direction, and yet, even the contemplation of putting this into action gives me anxiety. Women Don’t Owe You Pretty is almost a step-by-step guide and in its essence is an important read for women – particularly young women.
I felt the need to confess those feelings of guilt and shame to Floss, to admit that I had failed her message in some way. But the reality is that acceptance of this is, in many ways, step one. Floss told me, “That uncomfortable feeling means there has been some shift inside of us, and our mind is opening up to other realities – the reality that a lot of the time, we’re the ones getting in our own way and harming others. It’s like growing pains, but for your mind. No growth comes from consistently pointing the finger at others and refusing to change ourselves, and I got to a point in my relationships with others where I was saying to myself, ‘Why does this always happen to me?’ and ‘Why do people always use me?’” I realised, for the first time, that it was because I kept repeating the same patterns of choosing people that weren’t good enough for me, and that deep down I didn’t really believe I deserved better treatment.”
In this process of choosing yourself, there are several hurdles. One of the chapters in Women Don’t Owe You Pretty is dedicated to the gender issue, the what-is-my-femininity-what-is-the-male-gaze issue, and even when I asked Floss directly about this, she admitted it was a matter that she frequently revisited. This is a dilemma that I experience regularly as a bisexual woman. I notice how my own gender presentation fluctuates dependent on whether I am dating a man or a woman. And, if I am being honest, an aspect of this is not wanting to intimidate or emasculate a male partner by presenting my own gender in a less feminine way.
Floss ultimately explained that when it came to her own presentation of gender, “It doesn’t fucking matter, as long as it feels authentic to my desires in that moment. I ask myself if doing so is an act of honouring myself or denying myself”.
To choose yourself. I cannot help but be floored by how confident Floss is in asserting her own identity. As many DIVA readers will be able to relate to, we go through our own tectonic shift the moment we accept and acknowledge our sexuality. “There’s no experience more healing than allowing yourself to be exactly who you are with zero apologies, especially when it’s something you have been ashamed of for so many years,” Floss said of her own bisexuality. “Dating women and allowing myself to be intimate with women felt like coming home to myself.”
There is a wonderful relief in this, in acceptance. Though Floss added that some factors made the process a little easier. “My best friend Char and I both came out to each other at the same time, and we’ve embarked on this journey together. Having someone to grow with through this has been wonderful. My journey would have looked very different if I didn’t have someone to go to the lesbian bar with for the first time.”
Reading Women Don’t Owe You Pretty, I felt accepted. Perhaps this is what makes Florence Given so unique, that her voice becomes so loud it drowns out the bullshit of society.
She is Florence Fucking Given, and her advice for you? “Say exactly what you mean in the moment. Stop saying ‘yes’ to people when you want to say ‘no’. It will change your life and your relationships will improve (or dissolve). A new person is born in the moment you say to yourself, for the first time, ‘I deserve better’.”
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