Tamara Armstrong

WHYITRIBE (THE REASON YOU THINK IT’S IMPORTANT TO CELEBRATE WHO YOU ALREADY ARE):

Life is so short and I’m reminded of this with the passing of every loved one, the speeding by of each calendar year and the massive highs and hurdles that daily life brings my way working as a professional artist, raising my 2 year old daughter and attempting to be a fully functional wife, friend, sister and daughter…and basic human. I think that finding out and reconnecting with who you really are, is a gift you can give yourself to make the unexpected road of life a little smoother.

My entire life I’ve always physically stood out from the norm and I’ve never been able to fit any mold, despite trying bloody hard to. I’m 6’2, female, part anglo, part Samoan (and perhaps part giraffe) and I grew up in a community that I never saw myself reflected in. My friends were all anglo, mostly blonde, mostly short to average in height, as were the Barbie dolls I was given to play with. I grew up with little exposure to the cultural history and traditions of my samoan ancestors and I never really knew how to embrace my appearance, my height, my culture and definitely didn’t know how to rock my thick curly Polynesian hair. I hated my hair and I let it rule my life for so long. I’d pull it back to hide it, I’d get it thinned out or relaxed to try and make it look ‘normal’. I’d lighten it, colour it, cut it and never be satisfied.

In 2012 I heard a young woman by the name of Michelle Law give a Ted talk about living life without hair, ‘A bald woman’s guide to survival’.

Michelle suffers from Alopecia Areata and started losing her hair when she as just a small child. Michelle described her day to day without hair and the thoughts that go through her head, the reactions from others and the sometimes physical discomfort she accepts by choosing to wear a wig – to make herself and others feel more comfortable about her baldness, about her difference. At the end of her talk she proudly removed her wig and held her gorgeous bald head high and I was so moved to tears I felt instantly compelled to THE TRIBE this ongoing battle with my own hair. I decided I was far too ungrateful for the thick, luscious, abundance of hair I was fortunate enough to have and to prove that to myself, I wanted to experience life without hair. I signed up to ‘Shave for a cure’ and declared to my family, friends, colleagues and acquaintances that I would be shaving my head to support those who don’t have the choice. I raised $10,000 for the Cancer Council of Australia and found out what it is like to walk around as a woman without the security of hair and observe how a bald woman affected others. The entire experience was interesting, unforgettable and hugely liberating.

I’m certainly grateful to have my hair now and know that it will always grow back. As I’ve continued to explore through my art practice and in my own personal growth and realisation of what it is that makes me beautiful, I’ve found myself moving further away from a material and image based identity. I’ve embraced by hair, my height and all that makes me stand out. I can see now that I’m completely unique and that’s my power. I’m striving everyday to own that and be proud of it. I tribe because I need to remind myself of my worth when I see it and point it out in others.

NAME A TIME RECENTLY WHEN YOU SAID SOMETHING GOOD ABOUT YOURSELF / HOW DID THAT MAKE YOU FEEL?

Since quitting my stable job as a teacher and becoming a full time professional artist, I’ve had to be vulnerable in sharing my art with others – without the fear of rejection or failure. In sharing my paintings on social media, I’ve also found the courage to share my voice and thoughts with words and that has taken a great deal of confidence, openness and honesty – because I’m much more comfortable communicating with a paint brush. I want people to know that I’m proud of my artistic abilities and that I cherish it, because it is a gift. I recently attended an opening night for a group art exhibition run by the Global Women’s Project and was surrounded by inspiring, passionate and bold women who are all fighting the good fight for gender equality. I had painted a portrait of a woman who I admire greatly for her contribution to smashing ‘unconscious bias’ and embracing the diversity that exists within and largely forms Australian culture. Her name is Yassmin Abdel-Magied.

I was standing with Yassmin as numerous people came up to her to compliment her bold style, amazing public speaking capabilities and general all-round AMAZINGNESS! After they complimented Yassmin, many turned to compliment me and thanked me for inspiring them too. I felt completely inadequate in comparison to Yassmin when it comes to inspiring people and before I could completely shy away from it, Yassmin pulled me aside and told me to “Lean in!”. She spotted my doubt and called me on it. She always reciprocates the praise and respect I have for her, and she is genuine in her appraisal. I felt a bit silly for failing to stand tall and take the compliments I was being given, but those two words were a quick reminder for me to own it. I am inspiring others, by shining a light on those who inspire me and as brave as it may seem to quit your job and pursue your greatest passion, for me it’s the most fulfilling thing I’ve ever done. It’s helped me see myself clearer, embrace my contribution and celebrate it.

WHY DO YOU THINK WOMEN SHY AWAY FROM CELEBRATING OR PRAISING THEMSELVES SO MUCH?

Life truly is so short and I really do believe that many of us (women in particular) spend so much time and energy agonising over our image and how others may perceive us. The idea that we are not enough, seems to win time and time again over feelings of self-assurance, self-acceptance and self-love. Perhaps some women believe it is shameful to love yourself. Perhaps some of us connect it with arrogance, when in fact it should be connected with liberation and just being grateful for the bodies and minds we possess. We are each unique. We are all enough, and our power is naturally beautiful and stems from within. Acceptance and celebration of our true selves is certainly something that comes with age, and yet when we look back on photographs of our youngest selves and watch as our own children grow, we see little people who are joyous, radiant and carefree – completely untouched by the agony and unwritten expectation that we should envy something unobtainable and always loathe something about ourselves. It’s as though we have to unlearn so much of what we are taught to get back to that feeling of freedom. To just be who we are, unapologetically. It’s a crazy cycle and I hope I can help my daughter to skip large chunks of it in her development and life.

HOW DO YOU OVERCOME THE TENDENCY TO DISCREDIT COMPLIMENTS YOU ARE GIVEN?

I’ve always received compliments on my physical attributes, be it my long legs, my thick hair or my tanned skin. These were features I’d often wanted to change, so I never really accepted the compliments and certainly took them for granted in my youth. It took sharing my artistic ability for drawing and painting with others to gain some self-confidence and really know that I was good at something. I’ve always felt that my body was something I was born with, my genetics determined what I look like – I really can’t take any credit for that. But my style, how I present myself and what I can do when you put a paintbrush in my hand is something I do feel I have control over and it’s something I’ve worked out, put out there without hesitation and I’m proud of it. It has taken other people to remind me of it and to point it out at times, but I do find myself having those little pep talks more often. That inner voice that chants “Stand tall, hold your head up high, be proud of yourself!” The voices come from the beautiful and supportive people I’ve been lucky enough to know my entire life. I hear it clearly these days and that’s how I’m able to gratefully receive compliments when they now come my way. I cherish them…the voice, the people and the compliments that is!

HOW DOES SOCIETY REINFORCE THE IDEA WE ARE NOT ENOUGH AND HOW CAN WE TAKE THAT POWER BACK?

We are exposed daily (and from such a young age) to ideas about what it means to be valuable, beautiful and female within our society. We hear and see it played out by the roles our family members take on, from our teachers and faces in our community. The men and women who raised us, expose us to their influences, sometimes these were good and sometimes these were narrow. The portrayal of women, people of colour and members of minority groups were never represented enough in a diverse or positive way when we read through the words and poured over the pictures of our childhood story books. We were taught to sing nursery rhymes that reinforced the idea that men are always stronger and more powerful than women and both had very specific roles to play, clothes to wear and interests to group them. Even today, despite the amount of light shed on the inequality of gender-based stereotypes in the media, I continue to see sexist and biased portrayals of women and men, their bodies, minds and capabilities.

Since becoming a mother for the first time to my own daughter in 2014, I notice the existence of inequality even more and everyday. I myself grew up with a generous, kind, loving and devoted mother that did and gave everything she had to her family. She often told me that all she wanted to ever be when she grew up; was a Wife and Mother. It always baffled me, because I wanted for so much more and I still do. I think that it is ok for women to want to do it all and I think we should want for more. In saying that, if it is child-rearing or caring for others that one desires, than taking on those roles is the most powerful contribution to society that one can do. Loving our children and raising them to love themselves, encouraging them for all that they can do, be and dream is how we can take that power back. We’ve all created our own communities and platforms in which to lead an example from and no matter who you are surrounded by, or who you come into contact with you can lead by your own example.

We can smile at one another, hold our heads up high, acknowledge the beauty of simple acts of kindness when we witness them, point out the strengths in others and become the supporting platform to those who inspire us in their contribution. We can start conversations about ‘unconscious bias’ to understand why we sometimes follow societies ideals blindly. Understanding each other’s differences is the first step towards coming together and actually hearing what we all have to contribute.

WHY IS THE TRIBE MOVEMENT IMPORTANT?

To lift up others, to celebrate them and show your absolute admiration is a powerful and meaningful gift to give, but we must give it to ourselves first in order for it to be genuine. Words might seem powerful and strong, but they have nothing to show without action. The Tribe movement is all about empowering the self and empowering others and celebrating who we already are. Unfortunately, we often need to seek strength from outside sources before we can see it actually exists within, and has all along. If we only get one life, and we are living it now – then let’s show our gratitude and make our actions and thoughts count. See yourself, be proud of who you are and own it.

Occupation: Visual Artist

Website: www.tamaraarmstrong.com

Instagram: tamara_armstrong_art

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