Despite what the song says, a diva is not the female version of a hustler. Beyoncé, you really missed the ball on that one. In fact, the dictionary definition of “diva” is closely related to that of “prima donna.” The term, which denotes a goddess or fine lady, derives from the Latin “divus,” meaning divine.
I am a diva. In other words I am a woman who is just too much. I have always been too much of something — too much too soon, too loud, too fussy, too bitchy, too sexy, too intimidating.
A few years ago I was actually fired from a job for being too sexy. It was a lingerie store. The owner of the store took me into the backroom to talk to me. Why is it always a backroom? Every scene in a mobster movie the poor loser gets taken to the backroom. The kill is quiet and there are never any witnesses. When you are fired from a job it is very much the same thing. She said, and I remember this part very clearly, ”Your sexuality exudes from you in ways you don’t realize and I don’t want my customers to feel uncomfortable.” Too much.
I cried for that job, begged for that job, not at the cost of my rent, food and living expenses, but at the cost of my pride, dignity and self-respect.
This too-muchness of mine hasn’t only affected me in areas of employment. My love life has suffered tremendously. I’ve had numerous moments where women have jumped to a deer-caught-in-the-headlights mode when all I said was, “Would you like to dance?”
Who decides what makes a woman too much anyway? There is apparently a certain amount each woman is supposed to have. How much loudness? Just a little bit. How much aggressiveness? A teeny tiny bit. How much intelligence? Enough not to look stupid. How much sexiness? As much as possible before it becomes indecent. But the instant a woman becomes too aggressive with her sexuality she’s viewed as promiscuous. Remember Christina Aguilera? Back in her dirty days I argued with people on numerous occasions that she wasn’t a slut just because she was wearing booty shorts.
Men are given no such limitations; their too-muchness is encouraged, it is nurtured. I couldn’t consider myself a gambling girl but I would be willing to bet serious money that no one ever told John Wayne or Johnny Cash to take it down a notch or two. The Steve McQueens and Clint Eastwoods of this world are congratulated for their toughness, roughness and big brass balls.
So where do I look for reassurance? Not to the movies. Poor Marilyn Monroe was only ever taken seriously on screen. Mae West was raunchy, a real good-time girl that was never taken home to mother. Josephine Baker — my own personal Marilyn Monroe — is a great example of being an unapologetic diva regardless of the odds against her.
I want to be loved for my too-muchness not broken up with because of it. In queer culture being a femme and a diva is considered to be too intimidating. Straight men on the other hand seem to love that attitude; it’s a turn-on. Bookstores are full of titles explaining the phenomenon, a favourite being Why Men Date Bitches.
I’d be lying if I said I’d never thought about toning myself down, about trying to be one of those girls who is mellow and easygoing, who never wears mini dresses with four-inch heels or puts people in their places when need be. But I read somewhere once, “If you want the girl next door, go next door.” Apparently Joan Crawford said that and she was not a woman to be messed with.
I love my too-muchness but when I was younger I felt insecure about my loud laughter or my silly sexiness or my feeling passionate about art or even something as superficial as fashion. My internal critic would tell me to take myself down to a five or maybe a three, just a couple of notches since clearly I was at a 10. But with this whole process of growing up and into my own skin I find myself less and less concerned about how my “big personality” might make others feel.
It is challenging to grow up in a world where confidence votes are given in the form of hair-product commercials — “Because you’re worth it.” All the self-esteem boosting a woman needs for a price.
In a world that is constantly trying to make women smaller and smaller — our weight, our voices, our self–image — we have to fearlessly empower ourselves, we have to go up as many notches as possible.
What are little girls made of? Sugar and spice and all that’s nice. When I was a little girl I thought it was just a nursery rhyme, but this is still very much a what-are-little-girls-made-of world with only one expected answer. I like to think I am a sugar and spice girl, but with some diva attitude thrown in for good measure. I like to think there’s nothing wrong or too much with that.