It's incredibly hard for a woman to be herself in an unapologetic way. We all know it. The mere act of being female opens you up for scrutiny. Is your skirt too short? Makeup too heavy? Are you not using the properly gendered pens?
Sometimes it's all too much. I know I've waffled back and forth between being true to myself and giving in to expectations. I'm finally at the place where I'm proud to be a woman, proud to wear as little or as much makeup as I like, proud to don whatever I think looks good. Luckily for me, it's only taken my entire mid-20s to get here. HOORAY.
Surviving your mid-20s is hard enough to do without worrying about your identity as a woman, but I know you can do it! Of course, you could go through to the Eat, Pray, Love school of finding yourself, but who has the budget, or the time? Below are a list of 13 books, both fiction and nonfiction, that will give you the inspiration to find yourself. Don't do it for me or anyone else, however — make sure to do it for you!
The Awakening by Kate Chopin
The Awakening may seem like a strange thing to have on a list of women finding themselves, but it's more than just the story of a woman feeling stifled in her marriage and seeking outside pleasure. Notable during the time that it was written for its unflinching view of female infidelity, this is about more than just the details of a woman attempting to find sex. Throughout the book, Edna finds herself as well. Use her journey not to encourage you to cheat on your significant other, but as inspiration to explore yourself, conquer your fears, and find precisely what makes you happy.
Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli
Perhaps you remember Stargirl from reading it in middle school or high school. Although this is an oldie, it's still a goodie, centering on our titular heroine Stargirl as she moves to Mica High. Stargirl is strange, Stargirl is charming, and Stargirl is 100 percent herself. While some of her traits may read a little "manic pixie dream girl" (dancing in the rain, anyone?), Stargirl was true to herself in a time when it easily meant social death to do so. Read this book again with adult eyes.
The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
In this memoir, Joan Didion discusses a veritable conga line of tragedy with an unbelievable frankness and incredible inner strength. She discusses her husband's sudden death and her daughter's frequent brushes with mortality, all taking place over the course of one year. This book about grieving will help you look inward; how would you handle such loss? Maybe you, like Didion, are stronger than you know.
Bossypants by Tina Fey
Written by the creator of Liz Lemon herself, this combination of memoir and essays delves into the mind of Fey as she shares her opinions on everything from weight, to her family, to her time working on SNL. Her essay about the expectations placed on women has been widely quoted over the internet, but reading this book will help give you the strength to stand up for yourself, refuse to hire jerks, and be whatever and whomever you would like to be.
Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
Olive Kitteridge is a book of 13 short stories set in the coastal town of Crosby, Maine. Each story related to the other, and always in the center of them is the abrasive former school teacher Olive Kitteridge. Throughout the story as the people in the town struggle with themselves and each other, Olive finds herself in a way that she never thought she would before. Incredibly sad but ultimately uplifting, Olive Kitteridge can teach you that it’s never too late to find yourself — it just may not be in the way you were expecting.
Wild by Cheryl Strayed
After losing almost everything: her mother, her family, and her marriage, Cheryl Strayed decided to do something crazy. With little guidance and even less experience, she hiked the Pacific Crest trail, from the Mojave Desert in California up through Oregon and Washington State, a trip over a thousand miles long. Cheryl funneled her frustration and pain into this Herculean task, and so can you.
Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
Cath is a big fan of the Harry Potter-inspired Simon Snow, and has the thousands of words of fan fiction to prove it. Unfortunately, her world is turned upside down when she moves to college and out of her comfort zone, and she has to learn to balance between the love of her fandom and the new experience of college. We've all been there, and reading about it can be an inspiration, indeed.
Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
In a world where the word "feminist" is still treated like a slur, it's hard to try to work the tenants of feminism into your day to day life. We live in a time where presidential candidates openly show their sexism, and we're confronted with new and exciting ways to be slut shamed daily, but, luckily for us, there's Bad Feminist . This series of essays uses warmth and humor to study the cultural evolution of feminism, while at the same time pointing out all the ways we can do better as feminists.
Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit
This series of essays explores the many different ways conversations can go wrong between a man and a woman. While that may seem very Men are From Mars, Women Are From Venus, instead Men Explain Things to Me focuses on some incredibly heavy stuff; the silencing of women, the rise of contemporary domestic violence, and marriage equality. This book may be about silencing, but hopefully it will help you find your voice.
Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen
We've come a long way when it comes to mental illness, but that doesn't mean we don't have a long way to go in the "understanding" department. In 1967, Susanna Kaysen was sent to a mental institution with a diagnosis of borderline personality disorder. Her memoir centers on the two years she spent among the mentally ill women of McLean Hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts. Although many of us won't ever go through the extremes that she did, her journey as a directionless young woman can resonate with us all.
How to Be a Heroine by Samantha Ellis
Are you a Cathy Earnshaw instead of an Anne of Green Gables? Are you Scarlett O'Hara when you should be Jane Eyre? Equal parts memoir and literary critique, Samantha Ellis studies the literary heroines that shaped her personality, and wonders how they would stack up today. How To Be a Heroine will inspire you to look at yourself through the lens of some of literature's greatest heroines.
Don't Worry, It Gets Worse by Alida Nugent
When Alida Nugent graduated college, she was eagerly anticipating the sophisticated glamour of the "real world" when that fell apart almost immediately, she realized something incredibly powerful, she wasn't alone. Part memoir, part how-to guide, Nugent shares the secret to surviving your 20s, because we all honestly need a little help with that from time to time. This book celebrates booze, bitchiness, and, above all, being yourself.
The Red Tent by Anita Diamant
The Red Tent expands on the story of Dinah featured in the Old Testament of the Bible. In the original story, Dinah plays a central role but never speaks for herself, and now Anita Diamant has given her a chance. Why is the retelling of a Bible story so important to a woman finding herself? The Red Tent features a very rarely seen glimpse of a woman's life in biblical society, while also expressing a very powerful feminist ideology. Sometimes, it's best to study the past to see how one can fit into the future, and Biblical society is a great place to start.
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