My speech for Women's Voice, in Hastings; The Importance of Curiosity, Openness and Honesty.

I recently had the wonderful opportunity to speak at a Women's Voice event at the lovely venue OPEN in St Leonards-on-Sea, thanks to my dear friends at Eggtooth. I knew I wanted to speak, but for ages I struggled with finding a clear topic; the obvious choices were big things like my health, my scars, my love for my body, my love for bourbon biscuits... but finally, with my gal Lilly's help, I landed on something. 

I posted on Instagram about the event, inviting people to come along (thank you for being my support, Queen Clare!) and asking if anyone would want to read my speech on the blog. I got a handful of yeses, and that's enough for me! Here you go... 

These Yaks, though.

Hey, I’m Grace. Tonight I’m going to be speaking about curiosity, openness and honesty.

The other day, something strange happened to me. Well, it’s not that strange, I get stared at quite a lot in public, but usually it’s just that – a stare, and then an awkward apologetic smile when I deliberately make eye contact, or maybe a quick aversion of the eyes and a hurry away. Adults are funny like that; they won’t ask, won’t make comments, they leave you to it but like to observe from afar. 

Kids, though. Kids are different. Kids have no concept of social norms; I think they’re born with no filter, and slowly as they progress through childhood, it builds up, like a wall between their thoughts and their mouths. It’s fully installed by the end of puberty. I find that quite sad. I love young’uns honesty, sometimes. I often host kids’ parties at work, and I find it totally refreshing – and hilarious – when they tell me they’re getting bored and want to play a new game, or maybe that they like my top but think my earrings are too big?? I also love seeing how horrified their parents are when they say these things. I am always assuring them it’s fine; I needed the prompt to start a new activity, and I appreciate the feedback on the outfit.

Well, this one time a kid was staring at me in the street. It’s happened a few times, and I always make an effort to smile or pull a stupid face when I catch them – and they always smile back, or hide behind their guardians in terror. Fun either way! This particular time, though, the little human said ‘mummy, why does that lady have no hair?’

I chuckled to myself, but then I heard the mum shush her child, and whisper urgently ‘don’t let her hear you, she’s probably been very ill.’

Hearing that gave me an urge, so I turned around and smiled politely at the mum, then squatted down to talk to her kid. ‘Hey! Actually, I have been ill, a few years ago, and that’s why I have this scar. But I’m fine now! I just like having my hair short. Do you like it?’
‘It’s cool,’ the kid says, satisfied with the explanation.
‘Thank you,’ I reply. I stand back up and make eye contact with the – now VERY sheepish-looking – mum. ‘Have a lovely day, you two.’

I felt the need to correct this mother because I believe there’s nothing worse than making assumptions, first of all, but then actively shushing your child’s curiosity and in doing so shaming them for asking a perfectly innocent question, is quite harmful. It could affect their understanding and openness in later life! There may come a day when they don’t feel they can ask questions.

I am very open and expressive, not just in how I speak but also how I present myself. A few years ago, around the time I got savagely pranked by a bit of cancer, I realised I was working so hard to please others in so many ways – keeping quiet about my opinions, not dressing too loudly for fear of judgement, even missing out on jobs that I didn’t think suited someone of my age. And yes, it did take a tumour and a few major surgeries for me to realise it’s really not worth policing yourself so hard; that terrible cliché ‘life’s too short’ has some meaning, y’know.

So, yes. I’m way more open now. I’ll tell anyone about my health problems, my beliefs, my skin care routine – ANYTHING. I also like to challenge stereotypes, by doing things like keeping the hair on my head super short, and growing the hair on my body nice and long. 

I get my scars out a lot, too. Well, the one on my head is kind of unavoidable when I’ve got a fresh buzz, but I also whip my tummy out quite a bit, too. If anyone ever asks, I’ll flash them a little bit of mottle. Mmm. People always seem so fascinated by it. A few of my friends immediately asked, upon seeing it for the first time since my two bowel surgeries, if they could touch it. Every photo I post on social media of me with my tummy peeking out gets so much attention, usually more than a photo of just my face does. I can’t decide if that’s because my fabulous, scarred and somewhat strangely-shaped belly is really THAT fascinating, or if it’s because I’m sharing something so personal, making myself quite vulnerable in doing so, and that’s what they connect with and appreciate. Either way, it works for me because these days I’m bringing the body positivity and working with so many other scarred and ‘unconventional-looking’ humans to break into the mass media and hopefully give other humans something to look at and think ‘that’s a bit of me’. I’d have killed for that, when I was an insecure – but, ironically, a much more normal-looking – teenager. 

Yes, I love being asked about my scars. And my haircut. And my clothes.
I truly relish the stares, some days. I like challenging people, even just a little. Opening their minds, a tiny bit. And I really hope that the kids who are asking questions today will grow into open-minded adults who are used to seeing all sorts of people and respecting every single one of them, while also being totally and completely true to themselves. In the meantime, I’d love it if parents could try to be as honest and inquisitive as their kids.

My scars are a map across my skin of places I’ve been, and what I’ve been through. They remind me every day just how amazing and resilient my body is, how much trauma my brain can cope with, and how hard both of them will work to keep me alive. So yes, you can look. You can ask. Be curious, be open, and be honest.


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