Artists I Love: Ani DiFranco

When I was in high school, Ani DiFranco scared me a little bit.

There I was, so unsure of my own opinions, relatively insecure, and living within a small worldview. I was a huge fan of the jam band scene, and heard Ani for the first time on a “Live At Bonnaroo” compilation album. Here was a woman who had albums worth of opinions, spoke out very publicly about her beliefs through speech and song, and wrote about people, experiences, and raw emotion though a wise, insightful eye. It was so different from anything I’d been exposed to at that point that that I shied away, unsure of how to dig into the music of this strong, seemingly brash woman.

I believe that everyone goes through some sort of metamorphosis every 2-4 years. One of my most significant transitional periods happened during the summer between my sophomore and junior year of college. I loved being a music major, but was sick of living in a practice room. I no longer felt like I fit in with my old friends, but wasn’t even sure how to fit in with my current classmates, much less make new ones. I had been running a million miles an hour, taking too many classes and not taking the time to think about what I really wanted. As per usual in these types of stories, there was a boy tugging on my heartstrings. I was mentally and emotionally burnt-out.

In desperate need of empowerment, a Google search for the perfect feminist song led me to Ani’s famous track, “Not A Pretty Girl.” I loved the anger, frustration, and hope that sprung through the recording, “bread-crumbing” me to the realization that I didn’t have to be a certain way; that I could find the power to stand on my own two feet.

As the summer droned on and I began to find my bearings, I picked up Ani’s album “Imperfectly” on a whim at my favorite used music store.

Throughout our lives, we hear so many love songs, lamenting failed relationships or “The One That Got Away.” As I listened to track #2 of “Imperfectly” – as song called “Fixing Her Hair,” I began to question all of this. Ani sings about a friend who is engrossed in a relationship with a man who is not worth her time or energy.

The story is told through Ani’s musings during a brief conversation this friend, who is fixing her own hair in the mirror. Women have been doing since the dawn of time – beautifying themselves and talking about men. While Ani listens to her friend make excuses for this man’s behavior, she starts to question this female entire ritual. She concludes her that her friend

“still doesn’t have what she deserves
but she wakes up smiling every day
she never really expected more
that’s just not the way we are raised
and I say to her,
you know,
there’s plenty of really great men out there
but she doesn’t hear me
she’s looking in the mirror
she’s fixing her hair”

(full lyrics here)

Digging into this song, I realized how easy it is for us women to fall into this trap. We convince ourselves that if we’re pretty and complacent, we’ll get the guy, the job, the friends, etc., and everything will work out. Society has created a mold for us, and while it continues to morph and change, there foundation is always there: Look nice, smile a lot, and accept the bullshit.

If you’re going to get anywhere in life, you can’t stick to anyone’s mold or accept those who bring you down. While Ani’s focus in this song is on a male/female relationship, her sweetly-sung commentary on that subject opened my mind to life lessons in other areas that are much easier preached than practiced:

  • Don’t let yourself be weakened by someone else’s power.
  • Don’t stick with people who don’t treat you in the way you deserve to be treated.
  • There is no mold for how to live your life. We all forge our own path, and while others will judge us for our choices and beliefs, they can’t knock you down if you’re sure of yourself and who you are.

The last one is the most difficult. If you know and trust yourself, the first two will fall into place. I tend to blame myself when someone else brings me down, thinking that maybe I messed up or deserved it in some way. While it’s important to own up to your mistakes, it’s easy to blur the line and cower when someone makes you feel unworthy for no real reason. If you’re mindful and aware of who you are, you’ll know when it’s them, not you. You’ll know what you deserve, and be able to sense when you’re not getting it from that person. It’s easy to breeze through life without this sense of self, simply reacting to situations instead of taking them above face value.

The message in this music was, and still is, exactly what I needed to hear. Thank you, Ani, for making me challenge society, myself, and even, at times, you 🙂

Throughout the course of that summer, I shifted my perspective on who I was and what I was doing with my life. While no one ever really reaches that final point of self-actualization, it’s very fulfilling to know you’ve made some progress – to look back on moments in your life and realize that you do, in fact, feel more complete than when you started.

_____

Stay tuned in the next week for a review of a very different Ani album. This particular record of hers wavers beautifully between feelings of emotional vulnerability and empowerment. Ani fans, I’ll let you guess which one I’m talking about 😉

Thanks for reading!

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