What’s that one forbidden subject in every circle or family? Maybe it’s not forbidden, but it at least can’t be acknowledged with any honesty. Adolescent boys are taught that in order to live a happy heterosexual life, they must learn to use automated responses to make matrix style dodges regarding the subject. Girlfriends learn that in order to receive the same grace from others, they must learn similar automated responses. We tiptoe around talk about weight and beauty standards, or we shame people altogether. The difference really lies in the height of social appropriateness we feel the need to manage in any given interaction. No matter how much pressure is placed on me by airbrushed media images and herbivores of the soccer mom classification, those pressures can’t compare to that of my own voice. To all you males, I know you have these struggles too (Remember, as a mental health therapist, I hold the secrets of individuals of each sex so you can’t hide from me with your tough, confident exteriors). As we gaze into mirrors at our mediocre facial features, curves, and stretch marks, the silent voices in our heads cut us down with such nasty language and labels, it’s no wonder we have such a hard time loving ourselves.
As a mediocre looking female with a mediocre body type, I find myself amongst many different groups of people wearing different roles based on my appearance and size. As I reflect on the extreme variations in my perception of self due to a change in crowd, I realize I can’t be the only person dealing with the identity crisis that goes hand in hand with this confusing self-talk.
In my family, I’m some combination of angsty rocker chick and tomboy. I’m the one who refuses to spend money on clothing I want but don’t need, and I’m doing well just to apply eyeliner and mascara appropriately (thank God I finally figured it out after years of using it to express my tragedy and self-loathing to the general public). I’m still patting myself on the back for figuring out how to look normal, and now the Kardashians insist I should learn how to use 12 different brushes to create an optical illusion changing my face shape entirely. I guess it will be all chubby cheeks and dimples for me because when I’m running through my house in the morning with one shoe on, cramming lunch boxes in bags, and clipping bows atop three little bouncing, bobbing heads, the idea that some women spend more than five minutes on makeup seems like a tall tale. My sister, on the other hand, is picture perfect whether she’s dressed for an evening out or wearing a baseball cap and t-shirt. Her makeup is beauty blog flawless, and her huge brown eyes and thick bold lips leave everyone we pass commenting on her beauty. I spent so much of my life secretly wishing to be just as glamorous, but I matured into this creature who lacks beauty skills or even the passion to try so I just do enough to get by and not scare the children. In this environment, I take on the role of ugly duckling.
In high school (and especially when I reunite with those old friends today), I was the big girl. I was the tallest, curviest, thickest of the mediocre small town Mississippi white girls, no doubt. I guess it’s my fault for making friends with the girls who were actually a lot less mediocre than I was, but seriously, one of my friends is eight months pregnant right now, and she’s still thinner than I am. I lived my childhood slumped in the shadows of the pretty girls never allowing myself to be okay (much less happy) with the shell that houses who I truly am. I decided in high school to opt for a thrift store style and sarcastic attitude because if you can’t beat them, scare them away, right? Not only did I fail at scaring them away (I love you all, my beautiful friends), I forced myself into the role of invisible.
Amongst my colleagues, I have an almost opposing role to the previous descriptions. I’m the edgy, trendy girl wearing all black and designer heels. I have been described as a “model” or “life-size Barbie” by multiple coworkers and clients. (I’m aware this makes my family and friends fall out of their seats with laughter). These people who don’t know me well view me as someone who has her life together and takes great pride in her appearance. In reality, I’m not so much a “Barbie,” rather an individual who believes an important part of doing good is feeling good so I wear my favorite color and favorite shoes, and I apply enough mousse and hairspray to construct the most confident version of me. My role in this setting, much to my surprise, is the pretty girl. These three opinions and descriptions have two things in common: They’re all based on comparison of self to others, and they’re all painting a picture of the same mediocre me.
What does all this mean? Am I the ugly duckling, the invisible girl, or the pretty girl? Friends, I’m just a mediocre girl much like the rest in that I’m too hard on myself, and I compare myself to others regardless the circumstance. When I watch my three little girls playing pretend garbed in princess dresses and my high heels, all with completely unique appearances, labeling any one of them as more beautiful than the others is unimaginable. My oldest girl is wrapped in lean muscle with long, thick, dirty blonde hair and an envious complexion and tan that doesn’t fade away as the leaves change. My middle girl is long and thin (mostly legs) with deep green eyes and hair as bright blonde as corn silk. My baby girl is a solid little chunk with huge brown eyes, the longest eye lashes I’ve ever seen, and brown curly hair resting on her shoulders. I would be devestated for my children to compare themselves to each other in the way I have always compared myself to the girls standing to my left and right. My thick legged little four-year old and I have a high-five where we chant, “brown eyes, thick thighs, no lies.” She regularly floods my soul with humiliation by randomly throwing it out there around strangers (such as the teachers in the car line), but I am so excited she’s proud of her appearance! An even greater tragedy I would mourn if my girls critically judged themselves in comparison to peers is the failure to appreciate their beautiful souls. My oldest daughter’s compassion and intuition is much more beautiful than her athletic build and perfect complexion. My middle child’s creativity and independent spirit is more gorgeous than her super model frame or striking blonde hair. My baby’s openness and sense of humor are much more precious than her big brown eyes and matching brown curls.
Friends, be proud of and content with who you are. Appearances are ever-changing, but the beauty at the core of who you are will remain. As long as you’re peaceful and happy in your heart, your beauty will be reflected outwardly. In a world where makeup tricks have every woman striving to look the same, own your uniqueness. Don’t tear yourself down for living your life looking, acting, and feeling like you. Just paint the room black. There is a loud beauty within the mediocrity. Find it. Bust the speakers. Never turn it off.