The first time I saw ‘Muriel’s Wedding’ I didn’t like it. Not like I do now. It was because it was too close to home. Painfully close. I felt like the director was making fun of Muriel. And therefore of me. Well I didn’t think that as clearly I write it now. I had distanced myself from her nervous mannerisms and naive expressions. I didn’t want to have a terrible dysfunctional family. To be that provincial. I experienced an uncomfortable mixture of embarrassment and pity watching her. Even as others laughed along and loved her.
I couldn’t actually bear to think I was Muriel. With her weight issues, low self-esteem and appallingly limited ambitions to be a bride. Later in the film I cringed at the sight of her in that white satineen jumpsuit. Dancing so delightedly to Waterloo. She was way too fat to be wearing that. I thought I was ashamed for her. But it was for myself.
I once was too fat too. I had longed to wear clothes like that. To dance like that. In a figure hugging jumpsuit. But over time I’d learnt to hide myself. Even after I’d won the battle with my fat body. I was still struggling with inside feelings of unworthiness and fatness and ugliness. Like many women do.
My liberation began in a different way. Not with Abba. It was with reading. Germaine Greer to be exact. This was the seventies. The Female Enuch was newly published. Ms Greer was being written about. She was radical. Encouraging women to burn their bras. Publicly. An article about her published in the Sunday Telegraph horrified my catholic conservative father so much he’d thrown the precious pages to the floor. We were forbidden to even touch them. So I devoured the article later that night. By touch light under the bed sheets. Borrowed the controversial book from the library. An escape route was forming. My goals soaring to lofty heights.
By now I knew all too well I wasn’t pretty enough. Even if I managed to thin down. I couldn’t count on a prince to save me.
Lucky I was clever. Clever enough to get myself to a university. Where I was certain there would be people like Germaine. Making their way as smart women in a misogynist world. And winning. I didn’t think much about what to do there. I just knew I didn’t want my mother’s life. Giving birth to babies. Of endless washing and housework. Or to stay stuck in a small country town. Or even to marry boys like my brothers. I wanted a different life. Sure I wanted to be thin and pretty but I also wanted a life of books and culture and maybe travel. A degree offered all that.
Fast forward to the nineties. I had that degree. Medicine. I had indeed escaped the poverty of my mother’s life. I had travelled and experienced life beyond the routines of farm life. I was now a mother myself. Trying to resolve the conflicts of career and baby love. I was happy. Well as happy as I’d hoped to be. Or able to be.
Yet the film Muriel’s Wedding had made me uneasy. Because I was still learning that true acceptance of myself was an inside job. That I didn’t need to be thin or successful or pretty or even to have the approval of others. I needed me to be seriously ok with myself.
My Paris Story is about this journey. Though the soundtrack is more likely to be Edith Piaf. Maybe some Norah Jones. But the story is the same. Daggy fat girl inside the woman goes to Paris. Hangs about Montmartre. Quite a lot. Along the way she meets artists and street musicians and various other oddbods. And locals. She draws and writes and reads. Reignites old passions. Mainly she dwells entirely in the present moment. Along the way she realises she can be who she is and in her own way without having to be anything for anybody else. That finally not giving a shit (yes truly) about the cool girls or what the critical sister-in-law thinks is the way. That even becoming an elder woman can be seriously good. Even the wrinkles. And dry bits. That all this took way too long to know. So she wrote it down. Made some pictures. And told the story.
Ladies it is never too late. Its time. Write Your own Paris Story. Now.