How many times in life have I said it? How many times have I heard it? A bazillion. Life hurts…..it hurts when you don’t feel good enough, when you feel like you’ve failed, when you know you’ve over-reacted yet you can’t swallow your pride enough to apologize (in other words, to be an adult). It hurts when you aren’t included – whether that is intentional or not. And it hurts when someone is a smartass to your face…..even when it’s your own kid.
Like so many people, I’ve spent the majority of my life comparing myself to everyone around me – and of course I come up painfully short. I am not pretty enough, not wealthy enough, not educated enough, not talented enough (in any area!), not witty enough, not graceful enough, not……enough. While everyone around me is moving along in life with their families, their jobs, their hefty bank accounts and monthly trips to the salon – I stumble through. I’ll be 50 in about four months, and when I see others my age they all look so ‘put together’ – the epitome of American success – the hair, the make-up, the job, the schedule and children who respect them, along with the husband who adores and supports them. They seem……grown up……they are…..enough.
Now before I go on I suppose I should reveal a few things about myself. I’ve been with my husband since 1989 and married to him since ’91. We’ve shared in raising one of his daughters from a previous (albeit short-lived) marriage since she was three (she’s now 32), and together we have a daughter who will be 11 this year. I have two master’s degrees (psychology and social work) and am working on my third – in fine art. I am the fourth of 5 children and both parents are still around – and somehow, we’ve all gotten along for the most part. I have a trauma history but that story is for another day, but their are some early pieces of the puzzle that are significant.
I was born a redhead – yes, into that 2% of the population destined to be bullied. As a young girl I looked like Danny Bonaducci…..which sucked. I also grew C-cup breasts seemingly overnight in the fifth grade – so picture Danny Bonaducci with Dolly Parton boobs. Not a fun time for an adolescent girl. By the time high school came around I’d had my share of bullying, nasty comments (even from within my own family, who thought it was hilarious), and sexual abuse. I’d been taught that my self-worth was based on my appearance and by extension, how I could offer up my body. Outside of that, people didn’t take the time to get to know me; and because of pain I was enduring, I had become incredibly socially awkward and mistrustful……so I was not the most outgoing young lady.
While all of this was happening with me, my older brothers were making films. They were honing their talents in special effects, art, and movie making that would ultimately land two of them in ‘the business’. Of course I am happy for them, proud of them – however since age 18 I’ve lived in their shadow – one more thing to keep me from not being enough. All four of my siblings have partnered in one way or another on television and / or motion picture projects, yet left me out of the mix. I’ve not been asked or invited to participate in the art, the writing, the parties, the fundraising – none of it…..even though I am the one with the education to back it up. When a pretty face was needed to stand in at a party with my brother – my younger, prettier sister was asked. The four of them have photos floating around the internet at functions as ‘The D……. Siblings’ – and I am not mentioned a single time – as if I don’t exist. That hurts.
A few weeks ago my daughter flopped on my bed and sighed, “I’m fat”. I panicked. I knew enough not to argue with her, not to tell her she was not feeling what she was feeling….so I asked her what brought that on and she said, “Everyone in my class is so skinny and I am the heaviest one!” My daughter started her period last fall at the age of 10. She also wears a C-cup, is getting curves. But she is not overweight. She started puberty early and is well within a healthy BMI for her height. “J….. is a little heavier than you, and what about that boy? he is heavier. Baby, people develop differently – you have to remember that you were the first to start your period, and when you start puberty you have to gain an average of 40 pounds for your body to do what it needs to do.” She rolled around on my bed, thinking about what I was saying. I gave her the speech about not comparing herself to others because you will never be happy – and there will always be someone prettier, richer, thinner, etc. Ultimately she felt better and is doing great.
Why can’t I take my own advice?
I’ve always had this philosophy that I can’t count on anyone – I can’t put myself in a position where I need someone because people will always let me down. I hate to feel that way, but it has proven true over and over again in my life. And the funny thing is I have a tremendous amount of empathy for the human condition, for people – and I’d do anything for my fellow human – I would suffer to end another’s suffering and have done so. Maybe I don’t value myself enough and this is why I am rarely considered in the minds of others.
My hope is that the younger generation of women will not endure what mine grew up with. My dream is that they will always know that they are valuable, they are important and vital to this world because of who they are – their intelligence and talent – their compassion and empathy – their creativity and strength. As parents, women, adults, leaders it is our obligation to empower them.