I grew up in a small town. These days it’s not so small anymore, every time I go back there now there are more housing estates being built and more people but when I lived there as a child and later as a teenager it was small. I remember when we got the first traffic lights, the first big supermarket, the first fast food places. Being a teenager is hard and being a kind of weird or ‘alternative’ teenager is harder and doing that in a small town is even harder still. I remember being fat, angry, sad, and just generally feeling weird a lot of the time. But, more importantly, I remember when I started to realise that there wasn’t anything wrong with that, with being weird, with liking things that other people didn’t like or didn’t know about or didn’t care about.
In 1999 in a small town in Australia the internet situation was pretty shitty. You couldn’t go on Spotify or YouTube and listen to new bands to find something cool, you could download one song at a time via Kazaar or Limewire on dial-up internet and it would take hours, or longer if one of your siblings got on the computer and paused your song downloads so that theirs would finish faster. Or you could get somebody to give you a lift to the slightly bigger town 20 minutes down the freeway, go to the record store there and order in an album. Then you could go back a week later, pay $30 and pick it up. That’s how I bought my first Hole album, Pretty On The Inside (an album that Courtney herself says is unlistenable but that I still love for being abrasive and noisy and for having some of the best lyrics of any songs ever), when I was 12 or 13 years old. I had this little round blue CD player and I remember lying on the floor in my bedroom next to it listening to that album on full volume over and over. And I remember having a revelation.
Courtney Love herself was a fucking revelation. A woman who was loud and talented and just completely did not give a single fuck what anybody thought. I thought she was incredible and I thought she was onto something. Up until then I had this idea of femininity and how to be a woman and how to be desirable and it all came back to being small, petite, quiet or at least non-threatening, taking up less space, fitting into the stereotypical men’s magazine ideals of ‘pretty’ or ‘sexy’ and here was this beautiful, scary, tough woman who didn’t tick any of those boxes but I just thought she was amazing. So I started to think that maybe there was something wrong with this idea of standard idea of femininity and what a woman should look like, and that maybe I didn’t need to fit into that box and maybe there were entirely different ways to be a woman or to be beautiful.
From Pretty On The Inside I got the rest of Hole’s albums (and EPs and singles and whatever else I could get my hands on) and started reading a lot. One of the first books that really opened my eyes was Angry Women In Rock Volume 1 by Andrea Juno where she interviewed women such as Joan Jett, Chrissie Hynde, Kathleen Hanna and Valerie Agnew (I haven’t read this book since about 2000 so I’m not sure if it would still stand the test of time but I’d love to give it anther read) about music and feminism and Riot Grrl and various other topics. Then I moved on to The Beauty Myth and The Second Sex and other feminist literature (and Poppy Z Brite’s Courtney Love biography which I read so many times that I still know large sections of it by heart). I also started listening to more and more bands fronted by or entirely made up of women – Sleater Kinney, Bratmobile, Bikini Kill, Heavens to Betsy, Babes In Toyland, The Distillers, Veruca Salt, Jack Off Jill, 7 Year Bitch, The Runaways etc and cursing that I was born a few years too late for Riot Grrrl. Female musicians often seem to have a story about when they realised they could do what they’d seen a hundred different men doing on stage and I find those stories so much more interesting and inspiring than the typical male rock star ones, because they never had to overcome the feeling of ‘as a woman there’s no place for me to be doing this’. Women and girls yelling and screaming and singing about rape, abuse, motherhood, hate and everything they were feeling, getting up on stage and throwing in your face, all of that is so much more important and amazing to me than male rock stars doing the same boring shit they’ve been doing forever.
Even with how into riot grrrl and all those bands I was, I always came back to my first love – Hole and Courtney. I printed out pictures of her and stuck them on my school books, I wrote Hole lyrics and Courtney quotes (one of my favourites being “I want every girl in the world to pick up a guitar and start screaming”) on my folders and this did not go down well with my classmates at the only high school in my small town. I was asked why I would like her because she was a whore or a slut or ugly or whatever other shitty words teenagers can think of and I embraced the Courtney Love philosophy – who gives a fuck what anybody else thinks? and printed out more photos of Hole and stuck them on more school books. I was an active member of a Hole message board for most of my teen years, I included Hole songs on every mixtape I made from 1999 til at least 2006, I still know the lyrics to every song, I watched or read every interview and book about them that I could get my hands on. I loved them because they made me feel like I could be tough and strong and interesting and I did not give a fuck what anybody else thought about that.
Nowadays because I have this blog and I’m a visible fat woman or whatever I often get asked for tips on confidence and my most used answer is something about not giving a fuck and just doing or wearing what you want to and I think that all comes back to my teen years. My attitudes about body image, feminism, music, fashion – it all goes back to discovering Courtney Love and Hole and Riot Grrrl and realising that you can be loud, big, fat, weird and challenge beauty ideals and that is okay, more than okay – it’s good! It’s good to be weird, it’s good to be different, it’s good to think about things and care about things and not to just heed what you have been taught. Obviously there are many problematic aspects about Courtney Love, Riot Grrl, feminism etc that should be addressed and I think more about that stuff these days but when you’re a thirteen year old girl figuring out that it’s okay to be weird is a pretty powerful thing. I recently watched the documentaries Hit So Hard: The Life and Almost Death of Patty Schemel and Not Bad For A Girl (which you can purchase from here) which both have a lot of footage of Hole performing in the early to mid 1990s and it just brought back so many memories for me. Things like hearing the first riffs of Violet for the very first time, or reading the lyrics to Teenage Whore and being blown away but also things like feeling as though I was the only weird/fat/feminist girl in the world and how much that sucked until I found all these bands and books and ideas and basic punk rock ethos that made me feel better about who I was. I’ve never really wrote much more than ‘here is what I wore today’ on this blog but I would like to so I thought something like this that I feel really strongly about was a good place to start and it’s something that I hope will shed some more light on why I think/dress/behave the way that I do and maybe expose some of you to some bands or ideas that you might not have heard before.
Images from fuckyeahcourtneylove.com