UNCONVENTIONAL: Radical Softness as a Weapon / Amy King
Do you have the courage to be imperfect? Brené Brown says that courage – the strength to “tell the story of who you are with your whole heart” is that which allows a person to love, and to accept love.
In today’s society, however, such courage can be difficult to muster when surrounded by pressures that insist we fold ourselves, origami-like, into a perfect human shape – muffling mess, imperfection; emotions.
Lora Mathis refuses to bow to these pressures.
Sparking a feminist movement with their artwork, Mathis is championing the idea of “radical softness as a weapon” against society – fighting back against the constraints forced on our ability to express our emotions as we really experience them.
“Radical softness is the idea that unapologetically sharing your emotions is a political move and a way to combat the societal idea that feelings are a sign of weakness.”
Many of us experience pressures around self-expression from an incredibly young age. As children, young girls are often told to ignore their hurt when boys pull their pigtails or bully them because it’s to be recognised as a sign of affection. As they get older, they battle with their peers, their parents and society as they’re monitored in their ability to express themselves through their clothes, their social media presence and how their mental health suffers from these pressures.
As adults, women are told they are too feminine – too emotional, unable to lead, incapable of being both a mother and an employee. On the flipside, they’re bashed for appearing too masculine, attempting to step into shoes which don’t fit them.
There is no way to win.
Thus, this political movement of radical softness has blossomed.
The art world has long held a platform for political activism, and radical softness is no exception. Mathis, and others inspired by their work are creating art to highlight the need for and power of radical softness “as a weapon”.
In one of their art pieces, Mathis writes:
“Use emotionality as a radical tactic against a society which teaches you that emotions are a sign of weakness".
Playwright Donja R. Love uses radical softness to explore his experiences and understanding of Black masculinity, as well as in his acceptance of his experiences with mental health and living as a queer Black man. He considers radical softness to mean “existing in a space as a Black man, to be soft. As a Black, queer man, to just be as open as possible – as comfortable as possible.” He recognises the world trying to constrict his expression and experiences, and continues to question these restraints and fight back in the most radically soft way he can - by smiling.
On many social media platforms, users are exploring their own radical softness through art, make up, photography and other mediums. This corner of the political movement sphere is filling with artistic expression which only works to fuel the inspirational fire for more disenfranchised members of society desperate to express themselves fully and truthfully. It’s an empowering movement for many – especially those who experience mental illness – because it validates their experiences and feelings and uses those to change society for the better.
Brown noted from her research that those who lived with a sense of worthiness - those who had courage - were those who “believed that what made them vulnerable made them beautiful”. While not considering vulnerability to be easy or comfortable, they understood it to be a fundamental for building meaningful connections with others.
But what makes us vulnerable? Brown took to Twitter and within 90 minutes had 150 responses:
“Having to ask my husband for help because I'm sick, and we're newly married; initiating sex with my husband; initiating sex with my wife; being turned down; asking someone out; waiting for the doctor to call back; getting laid off; laying off people.”
“This is the world we live in. We live in a vulnerable world. And one of the ways we deal with it is we numb vulnerability.”
Opening people’s eyes to the benefits of allowing people to express their lives as they experience them is healthy. It empowers others to do the same.
Radical softness is for everyone in society. The men hiding their depression and suicidal tendencies. The genderqueer who don’t feel like they belong. The women and men tired of being constrained by society’s expectations.
We are seeing changes, though, and arguably in the unlikeliest of places. Teenagers are beginning to share their feelings more openly on social media – the very medium often linked to the need for radical softness in the first place. More surprisingly, perhaps, is that they are sharing these experiences in the form of memes. In fact, entire Instagram accounts are dedicated to sharing exactly this content. The fluidity to share, viral tendencies and wry comedic undertones associated with memes are perhaps what has made them more attractive as a form of self-expression for teens; especially in discussing their mental health:
“While the disconnect allows for candour, it interestingly doesn’t dampen the intimacy as anonymous memes provide a fresh point of connection between strangers online.”
By fighting back against society’s oppression of our emotional expression, even while using media as seemingly innocuous as The Simpsons memes, perhaps more people will identify strength in their feelings and embrace their vulnerabilities for what they truly are: “the master key to an extraordinary life”.
Words by Amy King