Hi, welcome to String Revolution. I'm Léan, I live in Dublin with my husband and two little boys, and I am a dangerous stringy subversive.
My job is to radiate my creative truth, and to help you radiate yours. I create, without exception, every day. I write here when I have something to say.

(learn more about me).

Sparkly Glittery Things and Me

Display of sparkly glittery things

I do not, I think it’s fair to say, present as frivolous. All those words like frothy and frilly and frou-frou, they just don’t fit me. And let us spell it out: these words are associated overwhelmingly with that other f-word, femininity, which from an early age has been a problematic space for me to occupy.

I was a terribly earnest child, and now that I’m a grown woman you’ll rarely find me hanging around at the hyperfeminine end of the spectrum. I can glam up with the best of them, but when I do, the result tends to be more Lady Macbeth than Tinkerbell, if you see what I mean. (I reckon it’s a power thing.)

So let me tell you the story of my vanity case.

This is a sad little story, quite inconsequential in the grander scheme of things, but close to my heart because it features eight-year-old me.

Back in 1983, I entered an essay competition sponsored by the Irish Milk Board. In what was perhaps the first of many such feats of approval-magnetism, I based my work closely on the literature provided by the sponsor – so closely, in fact, that it felt uncomfortably like cheating. Lo and behold, my essay won a prize.

Before I went to the awards ceremony, I had to declare which of their range of prizes I wanted. I don’t recall much about the list, other than that it consisted mostly of toys. But it included one mysterious item: a “vanity case”.

A vanity case! Surely this must be a treasure beyond imagining: a magical container full of the sparkliest, froofiest, pinkest-and-purplest, glitteriest and goldest and forbiddenest of pleasures. I pictured eye-shadows, lipsticks, perfumed powders, sequins and rhinestones. (In my world, such things were the stuff of fantasy – one of my grandmothers wore a little make-up, but that was the height of it.)

So I chose the vanity case, ignoring raised eyebrows from my teacher, and went off to collect my prize. I squirmed with guilty anticipation as I stood on the stage, waiting for my coffer of delights to be bestowed on me.

You can see where this is going, right?

What they handed me that afternoon, under those dazzling stage lights, was a small, plain brown suitcase, with rounded corners and a metal clasp. Completely empty.

*pause as we contemplate with our adult ironic distance the cheesy symbolism of that*

I used the ugly vanity case for years to carry my personal things on family holidays. I knew I could never breathe a word of my bitter disappointment – because then people would know of my shameful secret yearnings, and also because I’d been wrong.

Vanity case. How much heartache could the promoters of that competition have saved if only they’d called it something else!

But let’s come back to those secret yearnings, because they are what prompted me to post about this. You see, part of me is deeply ashamed of my love of softness, shininess, luxury and froth. And I constantly have to overcome this shame in order to make the beautiful things I want to make.

The balance of the struggle has fluctuated over the years, but it’s definitely become more complicated as I’ve got older, because the Real Grown-Up Responsibilities to which I should at all times be directing my attention have become more pressing.

It occurred to me a while ago, for instance, that I have difficulty allowing myself to work on soft household items (cushions, curtains) while hard items (shelving, walls) remain unfinished.

Again, I notice that this is a gendered dichotomy (hammer drill versus sewing machine), and I wonder what effect that has had on my efforts to find a better balance. I love my power tools, but there’s a certain defiance, a certain I’m-as-good-as-the-boys-ness about my enthusiasm.

What I need is somehow to empower the tools on the other side of the fence – quilting foot, seam ripper, embroidery hoop, needle gauge – and get my inner patriarch to shut up while I create beauty all around me, for the sheer hell of it.

Feels kind of subversive, when I put it like that!

This post, incidentally, arose from a comment I left on a post at The Fluent Self wherein Havi talks about wanting a vanity table but needing to “stop getting hung up on the idea that it means [she’s] vain”.

3 comments to Sparkly Glittery Things and Me

  • Mm, Irish prizewinning in the 1980s. Probably EVERYTHING they had was brown and disappointing, but that sounds *awful*.

  • Ok, not on point here, but I love the sound of the vanity case! So obviously not a vanity case, but sounds like a nice suitcase!
    I completely get the rejection of the feminine stuff. It also took me a long time to remember pink is not actually evil and a sign that you are some weak-ass limp little flop…
    Remember the sewing machine is a tool for change!

  • leannich

    @Ailbhe: Yes, I wouldn’t imagine the other offerings were all that inspiring. But they were more fun than an empty brown suitcase. (Do I dimly recall a lolo-ball? I think I do.)

    @Caro: Yep, it wasn’t all that bad of a suitcase, when all’s said and done – for a grown-up, at least. It was just the bleak contrast between what I was expecting and what I got. Aiee.

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