2018 in Retrospect | Getting Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable

19.12.18

As another year draws to a close, I always like to get a little reflective. And to be honest, so much of what took place in 2018 is deeply uncomfortable to reminisce on.

In the first half of 2018 we were rocked by the suicides of designer Kate Spade, on June 4th, and chef Anthony Bourdain only four days later. When two of the world’s most beloved public figures found their inner demons unbearable, we were reminded that modern afflictions like depression and anxiety will never discriminate and the pressure to “keep up appearances” is now at epidemic levels.

Donald Trump, naturally, was responsible for a lot of the year’s most uncomfortable moments. From his outrageous behaviour in July when, during a joint press conference with Vladimir Putin, the US president trashed his own country and law enforcement officials before proceeding to tell the media that he *believed Putin* when he said Russia didn’t interfere with the 2016 election – despite the FBI having clear evidence that they did. Lol. To September, when Trump created a conspiracy theory that Puerto Rico’s death toll from Hurricane Maria was “fabricated by the Democrats”, even though, as Late Night host Seth Meyers pointed out, “That’s the official death toll you lunatic.” And of course, more recently, there was his refusal to condemn Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudia Arabia for his involvement in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

There were those who felt galvanised by their discomfort; using it to illicit change. Parkland teenagers who survived the mass school shooting made the NRA uncomfortable by spurring the US into taking action against gun violence. Ireland made their conservative peers uncomfortable by ending its abortion ban, thanks in large part to the thousands of people who flew home from all over the world just to vote in the referendum. Kendrick Lamar made old white guys uncomfortable when he won the Pulitzer Prize for “DAMN” and those same old white guys shuddered when more women than ever ran for the United States Congress in the mid-term elections.

We read books in 2018 that made us uncomfortable in a way that felt necessary because it was a function of the author’s story-telling. Too Much and Not The Mood by Durga-Chew Bose scattered it’s discomfort throughout 14 essays of exquisite phrases and confessions concerning family, friendship, self and identity. Growing up “brown in mostly white circles”, Durga talks of feeling one step removed from her peers, a discerning outsider born to parents of Indian heritage, while living in a suburban neighbourhood in Montreal. She reminded herself – and us – to relax, because almost everything we say or do will be of little importance in the end, “There is strength in observing one’s miniaturisation. That you are insignificant and prone to, and God knows, dumb about a lot. Because doesn’t smallness prime us to eventually take up space?”. Remembering how unimportant we really are is both uncomfortable and a huge fucking relief. Marianne and Connell in Normal People by Sally Rooney made us uncomfortable in all their cleverness and awkwardness as on-and-off lovers. All limbs and hormones and cynicism. Conversations mis-read, sexual encounters misunderstood. We held our breath.

Off the page and into the real world, movements like #MeToo and #TimesUp continued to gain traction and make people uneasy, as more high profile men fell at the feet of their female victims. Joining the ranks of Weinstein, Spacey and C.K were some of fashion’s most famous photographers including Demarchelier, Testino and Weber, forcing the industry to finally examine their oversexed and underdressed culture. Come September, it was hard to decide what made us more uncomfortable: seeing Dr Christine Blasey Ford stand before the US Senate and give sworn testimony that Brett Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her in 1982, or that – at the end of the day – not enough people believed her. Or perhaps it was neither. Perhaps it was Ford’s genuine and almost desperate desire to please, her constant attempts to make the panel of men sitting across from her *feel better* that hurt the most. Smiling apologetically. Apologising as she asked for a cup of coffee. Apologising for not sitting close enough to the microphone, “Is this good?”. And all of this took place in the exact same week that Hedi Slimane debuted his first collection for Celine (without the accent) at Paris Fashion Week. The male designer sent 96 painfully thin, angry-looking models down a runway, 34 of which exited before a black model appeared, in sequins and pouf skirts and rigid dresses hiked high. Vanessa Friedman of the New York Times said of the show, “For those who feared that the days when Cèline defined what it meant to be a smart, adult, self-sufficient, ambitious and elegantly neurotic woman were at an end – you were right.”

Speaking of fashion shows missing the mark: Victoria’s Secret proved their days as a global powerhouse are over, when their annual fashion show was met with backlash and disappointment. The numbers were already there: its market share was slipping, sales were falling and then the show had its lowest ratings ever. But even more damning than the numbers was the feeling. Namely, that there wasn’t any. None of us give a shit about Victoria’s Secret anymore. It’s boring and irrelevant to see an army of identical size six models in underwear blow kisses to an uncomfortable (there’s that word again) crowd and draw invisible hearts with their hands. And if that wasn’t enough, then executive producer Ed Razek’s defamatory comments about the transgender community and not wanting a more inclusive cast of models because he was more concerned with “fantasy” really tipped us over the edge. Robin Givhan said it best, The Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show is too boring to even argue about.”

But as one global brand failed, others emerged as the inspirational forces we never knew we needed. Female-centric dating app, Bumble, clapped back at Tinder’s lawsuit (they were trying to sue Bumble for “infringing on two Tinder patents”) with a full-page, anti-bullying, female-forward ad in the New York Times. The irony, of course, being that Whitney Wolfe Herd created Bumble after working at Tinder for years before suing the company herself for sexual harassment. Hah, now who’s the uncomfortable one?

On a personal level, I’ve made friends with discomfort.

When you’ve got a loyal companion in nervousness like I do, discomfort is never far, and yet I felt a sense of calm and peace in 2018 that I’d been searching for for years. And I think it has a lot to do with accepting that life isn’t linear. It ebbs and flows. It’s unpredictable and – yes – uncomfortable. I’m learning to sit in the ickyness. It’s like wearing a dress that’s a size too small and realizing that if you just unzip it half an inch at the top you’ll feel a little release, your ribs will expand again, and it’s still not perfect but you can stay a little longer. You can breathe.

Sitting in your own discomfort is transformative, because it forces you to be present in the unpleasant. And when you do, you are able to see challenges more tangibly. To bring them back down to size. To see them as malleable and ultimately acknowledge your ability to cope. To not run from the bear but to engage with it. Invite it in. Make it a cup of tea.

Happy new year, be safe, and I’ll see you in 2019 ♡


Header image by Holly Burgess for The Twenties Club