Friday, May 27, 2011

You Can Make It Better

187.8 lbs. Okay, where’s the damned dynamite? Plateaus blow.

I can pat myself on the back today. No, I mean that literally: my flexibility has improved to the point where I can just about reach the bra strap by reaching over the shoulder. Yea!

I am not an expert on much of anything except for being me. Let’s get that straight. I am not a nutritionist, personal trainer or kinesiologist  except for where it pertains to my experience.  And I have a lot of experience.

That being said, I want to address something I’ve observed for years. I frequent public places like malls and I feel a little tug at my heart every time I see a young girl (teens and pre-teens) walking with head down,  eyes downcast and tightly hugging herself as she walks. There are also the girls with long sleeves (especially the big, baggy sweatshirts).  They have the sleeves pulled all the way down and clutched tightly in balled fists, arms rigid and straight at their sides and hood pulled down, if the shirt has one. If these girls do look up and make eye contact, it’s either quickly broken with eyes going back to the floor or returned with a defensive and hostile look (“What are you lookin’ at?). What makes this hurt a bit is that this is the body language of low self-esteem and feeling inferior or unattractive. It’s the body language of striving to be invisible.

I remember hearing a radio interview with someone who had been an aide to the Dalai Lama and written a book about it. He had attended an international symposium with His Holiness (I forget what the topic was. I heard this story in 1996 or 1997. That was a while ago). Self-esteem had come up as a topic and people were having a hard time explaining low self-esteem to His Holiness. The concept did not exist to a Buddhist monk.

There’s the “It Gets Better” campaign aimed at bullied, gay teens. There should be a similar campaign to reach young women called “You Can Make It Better.”

“Nobody can make you feel inferior without your consent.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

Young Ladies, lift up your eyes, straighten your shoulders  and see the world around you. This is America. We do not have royalty, aristocracy or a caste system (except in high school).  You are equal to anyone you encounter. Always remember that.

I survived high school. I still don’t know why a group of kids in my home room decided that their mornings should start by torturing me, but they did. There was a group of guys who would taunt and harass me at lunchtime (again, I don’t know why). I had no classes in common with them and the only time we shared space was the lunch period, but they decided I was a good target. I ended up back-handing the ring leader in front of everyone in the lunch room (which was the whole school). I don’t remember much after that except for the vice principal (who later shut my finger in his car door, but that was an accident and a different story) dragging me away to the other end of the room and begging me to calm down. As for the taunting, it stopped that day (My older sister, who had suffered identical torture from this group, berated me for having hit the leader and how it had embarrassed her that I had done so.  Of course, she was in the A clique in her class and a small group of jocks had eliminated the problem for her by threatening to beat the shit out of the offender if he didn’t leave her alone. Not having the same support system, I had to solve the problem on my own. I also don’t let her decide how I think or feel).

This is important: The kids (usually girls) who make catty comments and seek to establish their ‘superiority” by making everyone around them feel miserable are themselves insecure and in pain of some sort. The best defense is a good offense. Rather than confront their own feeling about themselves and appear vulnerable to the clique, they’ll project their inadequacies onto you. (The members will turn on each other in a heartbeat. I’ve seen groups of women who cannot wait for one to even be completely out of earshot before they start verbally ripping her. Of course, when she returns, it’s all smiles and friendship) They deserve your pity because they cannot get away from themselves.

People who respect themselves and are comfortable in their own skins do not mock and belittle others. They do not attack and ridicule unless provoked and usually, not even then. They are supportive and kind because they believe life is good, the world is a good place and you pose no threat to them.  They do not make good bullies because they do not need your misery to feel better about themselves.  They do not make good victims because their self-esteem is bulletproof.

The classic ruling clique in high school (Mean Girls Syndrome) are not people who like themselves very much. They may seem to have it all but they don’t. The fat girl who ignores them and continues to play the tuba in band or draw Hello Kitty all over her notebooks even after she’s been ridiculed for it has a more solid foundation and a better sense of self than the girls who make the comments, even if the digs get repeated and spread throughout school.  If you can withstand the onslaught and remain standing, you have a good foundation for handling whatever life throws at you. Them? Not so much.  

One of my favorite movies is “Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion.” I don’t identify with any particular character (although I would love to have Lisa Kudrow’s long, elegant neck) but our girls Romy and Michelle, after having concocted a big lie about their lives to impress the clique who had tormented them, finally realize that they are perfectly happy with their lives as is and don’t need those bitches anyway. The phrase “peaked too soon” applies because whereas our heroines had moved to Venice Beach, California designing clothing and having fun, the A clique was still stuck in their high school personas and hadn’t grown (except for one whom they turned on when she voiced an opinion they didn’t like).

The A clique in my class blew hot and cold on me. I could fit in and be on great terms with them some days or they could decide it was the day to torture me. One of them wrote in my yearbook, “I can’t believe how much bullsh—(she didn’t have the guts to spell it out) you take from me and still smile.” I can safely state I’m still working on building my self-esteem, but at least it was strong enough 30 years ago to withstand the onslaught.

Cool comes from within. Cool isn’t wearing a particular label or having the right boyfriend (or girlfriend) or listening to the right music. Cool is actually self-esteem. You are who you are, you like who you are and you don’t allow anyone to change that. Cool is like style: it doesn’t reside in the latest trend or the hottest fashion or what everybody else is doing. If you like pink poodle skirts and it makes you happy to wear them and you actually DO wear them regardless of the public reaction, you are cool. If you like pink poodle skirts and it makes you happy to wear them, but you leave them in the closet because somebody made you feel bad about wearing them, well, the cool is hanging in the closet with the skirts.

I recognize the self-preservation instinct behind trying to blend in with the crowd or carrying ourselves so as not to risk attention. After all, we’re told that the nail that stands up is the one that gets hammered down. That’s the easy way out, though and likely to make you miserable because while you’re blending in, you’re not being true to yourself.  And it’s unlikely that the people you’re trying to impress will actually give a damn or value your sacrifice. Twenty years down the road, they probably won’t even remember your name and you’ll have sacrificed your identity for nothing. And the chances are good that they’re not 1) Oscar winners, 2) CEOs of companies that they built, 3) Nobel Prize winners or 4) President of the US (if you went to high school with President Obama, well…there’s an exception to every rule, but I kind of doubt he was bullying people in high school).

You don’t have to compare yourself to anyone, not the prom queen, not the girl who got the lead in the school play, not the girls in Cosmo Teen or the girls on “Glee.” If anyone tries to force it on you, brush it aside; chances are this is just someone trying to make you unhappy or use you to make someone else unhappy. Do not let anyone else dictate how you feel about yourself  or others.

I walk with my head up and look people in the eye. I have for years. My head has not yet exploded. Nobody has hit me in the face with a tomato. In fact, I get smiles and nods sometimes. There was an element of “fake it til you make it” for a while. When I was in law school, we had courses in conducting a trial. When I started the course, I was very harsh when performing a cross-examination. The professor asked me why I came across so hard. I told him that I didn’t want people to think I was just some fat broad that people could take advantage of. The professor and my classmates look puzzled. I asked them, “So what impression do I give when I walk into a room?” The answer: “Power.”  You could have surprised the hell out of me.

So, Young Ladies, if you’re still listening, instead of trying to make yourself small and invisible, try walking with your head held high, relaxed posture and eyes looking forward. Pretend you already have self-confidence and power. You’d be surprised how quickly they actually show up.


  1. Teenage girls everywhere need to read this Sue!


Keep it civil.