Hi, I’m Alayna, and I’m a victim of bullying.

No, I’m not a teenager. I’m an independent, vivacious woman who realises high school was literally half a lifetime ago, and should have more important things to worry about than who says what and why. Also, the perpetrator of these disruptive acts isn’t a person, place, or thing, but a mindset. I’m being bullied by a way of looking at the world that too many people agree with, and for most of my adult life, I’ve suffered because of that.

I didn’t have many experiences as a little kid or an adolescent that involved bullying, either being bullied by someone, or bullying someone else. I was always fairly popular, amiable enough, and the worst things I ever had to worry about were “mean girl” rumours, the kind of nonsense I both helped create, and received. Despite living my life in one very large city or another until the time I was 27 and found myself in the suburbs, the only physical confrontation I’ve ever had with another person is when a drunk girl from my university found me at a bar, accused me of messing with her boyfriend, and punched me square in the face. I hit her with a bottle, and we all got kicked out of the bar, because nobody was going to call the cops on two suburban-looking Caucasian females with a combined body weight and stature that still doesn’t equal the average bouncer.

In fact, I don’t think I’d recognise bullying if it came up and introduced itself, because I guess I’m just the product of a slightly different generation and mindset than the world has today. I’m not very judgmental. I proudly call myself a liberal. I’m a little weird, a little unconventional, and accept everyone else is too. Granted, I might at some point say something behind your back. However, it’s never anything I wouldn’t say to your face. If someone has heard something that’s the type of remark I just wouldn’t ever make to you or in your presence, it’s a good indicator I didn’t say it. I’ve always been a “What you see is what you get” kind of person, and while I have my share of secrets, skeletons in the closet, and things about me that are just nobody’s business, I can also be very open and approachable once we’ve become friends. Sadly, I repeatedly get myself hurt by stuff that is whispered behind my back, people choosing to ostracize me, or other passive-aggressive types of behaviour.

The other day, The Guy I Am Currently Dating mentioned that some of these things I’ve dealt with—and am still dealing with—are a lot like the bullying that goes on in high school. It’s just somehow a more grown-up version. And, while I’m not really the kind of person who would ever say “Life is picking on me and it’s not fair”, I certainly do feel that way sometimes. Part of the reason I share everything with everyone, and approach conflict in a way that seems “aggressive” to some people, and make a big deal about making sure even the most minor thing has no ill-intention is that I’m remarkably thin-skinned. I don’t know how to defend myself against people who hate me, judge me, and refuse to forgive me for transgressions, or prefer to form an opinion of me at face value, or through the rumour mill. Those things all affect me more than they affect the average person, and they always have. I’ve been told I need to grow up, become less sensitive, take things less seriously, grow a thicker skin…so, like everyone, I have some well-defined defense mechanisms against being hurt. These typically include keeping people at arm’s length until I feel I can trust them, snarky remarks that are sometimes disguised as humour but have a grain of truth, and asking people if and why they have a problem with me, rather than just assuming one way or the other. I don’t excel at brushing things off or letting things go.

“Karma Is A Bitch, And Sometimes You Deserve What You Get.”

While this is true, I think there are limits. When I was 26, I went through a very tough experience in my life where all my dirty little secrets were outed and judged, courtesy of people I thought were my friends. While what happened to me is never behaviour I will understand or forgive, I’ve had to acknowledge my role in the situation. I didn’t treat my so-called “friends” any better than they treated me. I was making choices that might potentially cause hurt feelings or destroy the emotional stability of people I didn’t even know, and I wasn’t even thinking about it. I was largely going through life with an “I can say and do whatever I want” attitude designed not to let anyone get too close, and at the same time, enjoyed being popular and the center of a social circle.

The fallout from all my dirty laundry being aired was huge. People I didn’t really know in other cities heard gossip and stories. Some of them never met me, but hated me. Some of them never met me, but suddenly wanted to. I got kicked out of my apartment, lost almost all of my friends, and had absolutely nothing. When I entered a room, someone was whispering somewhere. I got e-mails that, more than once, made me wonder if life was even worth living. I didn’t really socialise with anyone or consider anyone a friend for three months.

Of course, life goes on, and every time you get knocked down, you rebuild. However, when you say things like that, when you say “Whatever, I’m a survivor. I’m strong.”, it implies that you’re less emotionally affected by life than you really are. I’ve been devastated, and my heart has been fractured so many times, it will probably never be capable of the kind of love and innocence I once believed in.

I had to take responsibility for my own behaviour, and realise I’d invited some of the bad karma and bullying into my life. I did, and I figured it was time to move on. Every time I felt hurt and “bullied”, I rationalised that I probably deserved it, even if not for the reasons others thought.

Statute Of Limitations

The problem is that karma may balance eventually. However, bullying like that doesn’t end. Six years have passed, and just recently, I happened to hear that someone was choosing not to be friends with me because of things they’d heard about me. Coincidentally, at the same time, I learned that someone from my past was now living in the city, socializing with some of the same people I know.

When I was 21, I made some bad life choices. I treated people badly. I treated someone badly even though I loved him immensely, and moving on from a relationship never hurt like that before, or since. I behaved in a selfish and callous way in order to survive and get what I thought I wanted and needed. I hurt people. There were consequences to all of that, including having to learn what the inside of a jail cell looked like, and that I was nowhere near as tough as I thought I was. I was just a scared girl out of her element who made some bad choices, ignoring the negative consequences to herself or anyone else.

I’ll always have to live with that year of my life that ruined everything. I could blame it on the ways in which the world hurt me, the need to survive on my own in a world that just didn’t care about me, on life not being fair…but I don’t. I admit to being young and stupid, and doing selfish, hurtful things. There were consequences. I had to accept those and live with those.

Over a decade later, I am not the same person. Who is? Who hasn’t changed and grown since their 21st birthday? Yet, there are still people who assume I am, that my past mistakes define me always and forever, and that my character is irredeemable.

The choices that I made later in my 20′s, while I regret the fallout from many of them and that I was so self-centred I forgot to feel empathy for others, or to ever really connect with others—I don’t apologise for the unconventional life path I traveled upon. And when all that unconventionality was “outed”, and I was constantly confronted and expected to feel shame, or move out of the city, or never dare to show my face in a social circle anywhere again, it seems my greatest crime was that I didn’t. I was not ashamed enough, I did not dislike myself enough, I had the audacity to keep on going with my life and rebuild.

Guess what, people? I didn’t always dislike myself. Since that period of my life, I struggle to find any semblance of self-esteem and self-acceptance in a world I believe will never understand my present, forgive my past, or want to be a part of my journey in the future. Your “bullying” tore me down more than you’ll ever know. I’m even more cautious and distrustful about letting others into my life. On my worst days, I probably see myself exactly as you see me. I just have too much pride to let you see me cry. It doesn’t mean there are wounds that just won’t heal, because every time I get there, someone shows up to re-open them.

Being “Reserved” Is Not The Same As “Betrayal”

I didn’t choose the life that most people would choose. I chose a way of life that varies between “unconventional” and “hopelessly immoral”, depending who you are. But I never asked for judgment on my life path. It shocks me when, many years later, I hear gossip and cruel words that have to do with things that were always intended to be a part of my private life. It is not my fault that others could not forgive my choices, and felt I was so worthy of judgment that my private life should become public business. In fact, I think those who chose to do that to me should be judged as harshly as they judge me. I would never open someone’s closet, let the skeletons fall out, and then circulate all the gory details for public consumption.

Doing that isn’t a minor thing. It isn’t revenge for being hurt or not liking someone. It isn’t an acceptable way of saying “People like you don’t belong in our world”. Those actions destroy lives. People have committed suicide over similar issues with gossip and scandal and ostracism. In my viewpoint, it’s one of the worst things you could ever do to someone.

Some of the rationale I’ve received is that people felt betrayed by me because I had secrets. Everyone has secrets. Everyone has a private life. The reason we’re so into melodramas like “Desperate Housewives” and reality TV shows is because, behind closed doors, most of us live lives that wouldn’t withstand public scrutiny and the harsh, unreasonable judgment that goes along with it. Ask almost every politician and his/her family.

We live in a world where “freedom of information” means everyone is entitled to know everything about everyone else, and if you’re not going to open up about that time you got arrested, the kinky sex club you went to, the affair you’re having, that time you stole something from someone, or lied to someone to get your way, or manipulated something out of greed or jealousy or ambition, you’re the kind of person who deserves to be judged…and frequently, and harshly. And for the rest of your life.

I am sorry, but there are some things I don’t feel you are entitled to know. Despite this blog, despite my openness as a person, I actually have a very private and vulnerable side few people see. I am, in many ways, more traditional than you might expect. I am, in many ways, more loving and more compassionate than you might expect. If you judged me solely via the stories you’ve heard and the notoriety my less-than-diminuitive personality has brought about, you’d likely be surprised when you got to know me as a real person, one-on-one. It is a pity that because of judgments and stories and rumours, so many people will never have the interest or the opportunity in knowing that person.

There is a point when that relentless judgment, cruelty, and ostracism will break a person, and sometimes, I think the only reason it hasn’t broken me is because I have too much pride. I am too special to be broken that easily, and I’m sorry if the world doesn’t agree. But there’s also a point where the attempts to do so becomes a form of bullying.

When The Guy I Am Currently Dating gets anonymous e-mails alluding to my past, or someone actively tries to destroy my relationships because they judge me not worthy of love, that is bullying. When The Guy I Am Currently Dating’s mother leaves me abusive telephone messages and letters telling me I’m white trash and Casey Anthony and deserve to die, that’s bullying. When some girl I don’t even know calls me fat and arrogant and a liar, that’s bullying. When someone who is supposed to be my friend tells me they’re tired of hearing me whine about being sick to others on FB, because it’s presumptuous of me to think everyone cares, that’s bullying. When the neighbour gets an attitude and goes all ghetto on me about my dog pooping on the sidewalk and refuses to back down until I clean up the entire front yard, even though my dog didn’t do it, that’s bullying. When I can’t hang out with people whose company I enjoy because their group of friends won’t tolerate my presence, that’s bullying…and particularly hurtful when I don’t even know why. But most of all, when people bring up dirt about me from five or ten years ago and share it with people they barely know, people who then refuse to give me the time of day, that’s bullying.

Have I made mistakes in my life? Sure. Did I do stupid and destructive things as a kid? Absolutely. Did I take a life path in my 20′s that was largely self-centred and something other people may not agree with? Definitely. But I’ve paid the consequences for my mistakes, I’ve gotten my own karma, I’ve had to grow up and move on.

My question is, when is it time for everyone else to do the same?

Believe it or not, I’m actually a pretty decent person. I stopped hating the world, got over my self-destructive bullshit, learned to have healthy relationships with other human beings, admitted to my mistakes and took the lumps that were coming to me, and grew as a human being. So, why do I still deserve the gossip and the ostracism and the “I just don’t like you?” and the judgment from people I barely know?

I Am Not Perfect

Nope, I am not perfect. Far from it. I may be the most complex, fucked-up human being on the planet. I may also be one of the most loving, caring, empathetic, life-loving, experience-embracing people you’ll ever meet. I am overly sensitive, overly insecure, and having to be strong in the face of so much meant to tear down anything I might value about myself has taken a decade-long toll on me.

No excuses, though. I still do things I shouldn’t, say things I shouldn’t. I still could do some work on being a more tactful, amiable human being. I still could learn the world doesn’t revolve around me and there are times to keep my damn mouth shut. I still could learn that words don’t just hurt me, so I need to own what comes out of my own mouth.

I have a friend I’ve known for at least 5 years…at least, we’re social friends, and I always considered us as such. We had some good times together. Last time I saw her, I got a vibe that she didn’t much care for my presence. In fact, I felt deliberately ignored, and while most people would let that go, I’m pretty intuitive.

I mentioned it to a mutual friend, who said she’d ask if this friend was mad at me. I declined the offer, because I don’t want to be that confrontational, oversensitive person who thinks the world is always out to get her. However, it’s not paranoia if something’s really going on, and I’m usually right.

So, when I saw this friend in person, I asked her. I give her credit for being a straight-shooter who doesn’t mince words or behave passive-aggressively. So, I asked her if I did something, and if so, what it was. It turns out, I did. I had made snarky comments that weren’t appreciated, and she said it wasn’t worth being mad about, she was just over it.

During the time I’ve known her, she’s always been the type to make her own share of snarky comments, and when one of them happens to be at my expense, I put on an exaggerated sad face and ask why she’s mean to me. I’ve never taken any of it seriously, seen it as drama or passive-aggressive behavior. I thought it was just how we agreed to relate to each other. I kind of started to see it as an inside joke. I mean, when people attend your birthday parties, and you visit their house, and you amicably travel in the same social circle, you know someone isn’t really mean to you…and you assume they know your snarky comments are similarly meant to be drama-free.

As it turns out, that was not the case. She told me she never appreciated it, never thought it was funny, and was over it. I appreciated her candour, and did the right thing. I apologised for my snarky remarks, and for being unaware for literally years that they weren’t coming across the way I thought they were. What I saw as just the odd way we related, she found irritating and emotionally tiring.

I never would have known if I hadn’t bothered to ask her how she was feeling, and what changed between us. I didn’t turn the tables on her, and say, “You say snarky things, too…are they serious, or have they always been a joke?” My behaviour was not enjoyable for her to be around, and when that’s the case, you have to be an adult and own it. So, I apologised. I apologised to her husband for any unintentional rudeness he may have also picked up from me. Apologies were accepted, and life goes on.

Nobody’s perfect, and just because sometimes, you feel bullied by life and treated obnoxiously by your fellow human beings doesn’t mean you don’t have the capacity to be equally obnoxious, rude, or tiresome. Sometimes, people change and grow, and something that used to be funny just seems immature and a waste of time. Sometimes, how you behave isn’t as cute or endearing as you think that it is.

That’s why I ask people if something’s wrong when I perceive a change in how they’re acting around me. While that can be a little exhausting if you’re an introvert who’s chosen to date me or is a really close friend, and I firmly acknowledge that, for everyone else, it has a 90% success rate. If I sense something is up, it usually is. Where I have a problem is accepting that someone doesn’t want to tell me, or is only willing to tell others behind my back.

When I am wrong, I apologise. I don’t go through other people. I don’t gossip or send someone else to ask if you’re mad or why I don’t get warm and fuzzy feelings. I don’t create a scene. I just want to sit and talk about it, and if I owe someone an apology, they’ll get it.

It is hard for me to understand why more people don’t approach things that way. Instead, I know people who have stopped speaking to me and refuse to acknowledge my existence, and I only ever have hints of “why” through the rumour mill. And, somehow, finding things out that way catches me off-guard, makes me feel shocked and vulnerable, and truly hurts.

Nobody likes to be blindsided, and nobody likes to be judged or a popular punching bag, or topic of discussion. Especially since, when it comes down to it, nobody is perfect.

I try really hard to like who I am, and be content with that person. The last thing I want is people in my Universe who want to make it harder for me to do so. It’s tough to realise your personality and your lifestyle and your past history makes you as objectionable to many as it makes you feel loved by others.

It’s a pill I’ve been trying to swallow for 10 years, and this weekend, I still felt sad and overwhelmed by it. Perhaps human nature is just a force bigger than me, and it is always going to win, or perhaps I just live in the wrong place for me. I wonder, had I been a better person, had I followed the conventional route, made the same choices as most other people, would I be more well-liked? Would I be happier? Would I be more open, and feel less like it’s necessary to guard myself with sarcasm and one-liners, and only talk about certain pieces of my life journey? Would I be the kind of girl that Southern mothers want their sons to end up with, or would they still think me a loud, trashy bitch?

Or would I just have led a more sheltered existence that denied me the ability to look at the world and people in it a little differently than others?

I’ve been dealing with the consequences of hurting others as a stupid 21 year old for a decade. Even when the worst thing I did was choose an unconventional and wild life path, my penance was years of harsh and unforgiving judgment. I don’t consider myself strong, but I know I must be in some way, because I’ve somehow survived and never backed down.

When will I be strong enough that words don’t hurt, that whispers mean nothing, that silent judgment doesn’t affect my life? Am I lacking something everyone else naturally has, or is life just asking a little much from me?

“It will never rain roses: when we want to have more roses, we must plant more roses.” —George Eliot

NOTE: You can either read my snarky rant about positive thinking, or you can just read this awesome article that inspired it. Or you can read both, but depending on how positive you are, you may not be able to handle that.

We’ve somehow all survived the Thanksgiving holidays, and while it would be appropriate to put up the obligatory post about all the things and people I am thankful for having in my life, I’m not going to do that. I’m not an unappreciative, ungrateful kind of person. It’s just that the people in my life *know* how much I love and appreciate them. They received a text or a phone call or a Facebook message or an e-mail reminding them, and I don’t restrict this sort of “I’m just reminding you that I like you!” stuff for holidays.

I actually have a lot for which to be grateful, and the way I live my life is generally to express what I feel, in some form, most of the time. I don’t need a holiday for that. I will express my feelings in the moment, or in a moment soon after that one. You don’t have to know me very well to have figured that out.

Of course, there are also many things in my life for which I am not grateful. They are difficult, challenging, confusing, overwhelming, or just plain suck. I don’t give thanks for those things, even though I’ve been told they’re making me a better person, and being more positive would allow me to see the blessings in the things that suck.

However, I am a realist. I love the things that make me and those I care for happy, and hate the things that don’t. It’s pretty simple.

I’ve written about this topic before, but I have been defriended on social media sites, received scathing comments in response to me expressing my thoughts and feelings, have had people refuse to associate with me, followed by spending time discussing me behind my back in unflattering tones….all because I am not “positive” enough. This is especially true on Facebook, where I’ve had people write “Every time I read one of your posts, it’s complaining about something”. and “Why do you have to post all these negative personal feelings? Nobody really cares and it brings everyone down.”, and even, “Sorry you’re sick, but do you think everyone wants to hear about your problems?”

This seemingly disproportionate response to expression of feelings that are not positive and upbeat shocks me. In fact, when I used a tool to analyze my Facebook posts, it characterised about 70% of them as either “thought-provoking” or “optimistic” in tone. Overall, my Facebook page is more positive than negative, more emotional, more profound, and more concerned with social issues than most. Yet, people don’t like me because I am not positive.

I freely admit, I am snarky. I comment on the things that annoy me or suck about life with a wry sense of humour. I don’t pretend that “challenges are just triumphs in disguise!”. I think “The Secret”, and most self-help books like it, is utter crap. I don’t believe there’s a secret to happiness or to changing your life. Dream boards and visualizing what you want in order to make it happen is kind of like praying for what you want, without doing anything positive to accomplish that goal. There’s no magical formula. It’s great to understand yourself and want to improve your life, but “Closing the door to negative thoughts and people!” isn’t what’s going to get you there. In fact, most self-help and motivational seminars that encourage you to think about positive things and your life will be positive are selling you the oldest trick in the book: denial. When you plaster a smile on your face and deny that sucky things happen to you, and it’s OK to be angry, upset, pissed, and negative about them, chances are good that you’re going to see some anti-depressants in your future.

Shockingly, I’m not a terribly negative person. However, I don’t have blind faith in anything. Things don’t just “all work out in the end” because you’re a “good person”. Read a history book. Plenty of great, positive people didn’t exactly have things work out for them, and plenty of people you wouldn’t want to know have been very happy.

I’m an idealist. I see people and the world the way they could be, and am so often hurt and disappointed that’s just not the way things work out, so much of the time. I am often disappointed. I often feel let down and not valued enough by others. I am often shocked when someone is hurtful or throws something in my face, or claims to love me, yet causes me to cry. I am often looking for something greater than what I have, because I believe on an intuitive level that such a thing exists. However, I’m also realistic enough to understand that I often experience emotional chaos because I attempt to inflict my unrealistic ideals on the rest of the world, and my fellow human beings often do not operate in the same way that I do.

I am also a realist. I know the world doesn’t work the way I would like it to. The legend of Camelot has always been a story close to my heart (hence Lady Guenevere as my screen name everywhere.), for a number of reasons, but an important one is that it epitomizes the duality of my personality. Camelot fell because of human frailty. It was pre-destined to do so; yet, people never stopped believing they could make the world a better place and build something ideal. The ideals never matched up with reality, and the consequences were devastating. Yet, somehow, idealism could co-exist with a firm grasp on reality.

Things don’t always work out in the end. Things disappoint you, people let you down, you fail, bad luck knocks at your door. It doesn’t mean you should stop believing that your life will be filled with positive moments. It does mean that if you’re unprepared to acknowledge negativity and adversity because you won’t allow such ideas in your positive head space, that adversity is going to knock you flat on your ass when it’s your turn to get screwed over by “how life works”. And it will, someday, be your turn, no matter how positive you are about you and your life being charmed and perfect and full of everything you’ve ever wanted. That attitude didn’t work during the 1950′s—it led to people drinking Scotch and popping Valium on a daily basis, but hey, they were smiling— and it doesn’t work now.

Yes, whoever you are, whatever your challenges and things for which you should be grateful, there will be moments when your life just sucks. Something will happen that isn’t fair. Someone will be a petty, jealous asshole and try to tear you down. The stock market will plummet and you’ll lose half your money. A flood or an earthquake or a hurricane will come to your part of town. You or a loved one will get sick.

Inevitably, you’ll have to deal, and the “secret” to dealing is not to visualise a world where everything is so much better and trust that positive thinking means that the Universe or God or whomever is going to fix things for you. You’re going to have to know how to cope, and how to fix things yourself. I maintain that cultivating an outlook based on fake smiles, cliches, and denial in order to “focus on being a happier person” isn’t going to equip you with the survival skills you need. And one day, you are going to feel extremely negative about the fact that cliches and smiles and dream boards don’t protect you from the bad things in life, and avoiding anyone who talks about “negative” things in their life is not only unhealthy for you, it is, at the core, self-centred. “The Secret” seems to be to focus on how awesome you are so frequently that you lose patience and empathy for those who are struggling and suffering, and turn your back on those who need support because they are bringing negative energy into your world. The irony is that you are obviously struggling and in need of support, too, only you’ve found it in a book that claims to have all the answers rather than in other human beings, or deep within yourself.

I don’t argue in favour of toxic people. Toxic friendships and relationships can harm you, can hold you back, and you should like yourself enough not to tolerate them. This is not the same as saying “I don’t want to know you because you’re too negative” to someone who will discuss both positives and negatives openly.

I believe in a full range of emotion and human experience. Nowhere was it ever said that we’re supposed to be happy all the time. We’re not. Sometimes we are, and that’s great. Sometimes we’re sad or pissed off or suffer a loss or uncertain about the future, and that’s OK, too….unless we don’t have anyone in our lives with whom we can honestly share feelings because they’re all too busy searching for the elusive Holy Grail of “positivity, light, and happiness”. I would not want to live in a world where everyone was happy and bursting with self-esteem, announcing how great they found life and other people and themselves, every single day. I know some people like that, and frankly, they annoy the hell out of me. I don’t find it genuine, and the facade makes me angry. As much as people dislike me for being too “negative”, “snarky”, “jaded”, “cynical”, or “realistic”, I want to scream and shake people and say “Why can’t you just for one second behave like a real, multi-dimensional person?!”

However, that’s just me. This page is called “Jaded Elegance” for a reason, folks. You’re not going to find affirmations and self-help here. I do believe in learning about yourself, learning about others, and finding ways to cope with life that enhance the good moments and help the sucky ones suck less. I do believe in friendship, love, compassion, empathy, and tearing down the walls that people build to protect themselves from the world…but only succeed in creating falsehoods and alienation.

I don’t think that deciding to be happy made you happy. I think you lost weight because you decided to stop eating pizza and get on the treadmill. I think you found the right person after years of horrible relationships because you took the time to get to know yourself, and gained enough self-esteem to stop dating jerks and losers. I think you found your dream job because you finally had the nerve to go out and chase after it. If a book or a religion or a seminar did that for you, that’s great, but I think you’re selling yourself short. It may have inspired you to do something better with your life, but you did that for you.

And just because you made positive life changes, don’t start believing life will always be positive and peachy because you’re now one of those “positive mindset people”. Sucky things will still happen, on a regular basis. Hopefully, though, you’ve acquired the necessary tools to deal with them in a healthy way.

We don’t live in a world of happy, and all the positive thinking in the world isn’t going to make it so. In fact, “Positive Thinking Is For Suckers!”, or so says this article I love.

Should people be happy? Of course. But trying to be happy, to the exclusion of focus on much else, is the same reason that those who are trying out a new diet rarely succeed. However, they become much less entertaining, telling you the calorie count of every single bite of food they eat, without losing a pound. Focusing all your energy on “being happy” is actually code for focusing all your energy on why you’re not happy now, making you a negative person in denial.

Living in the moment seems to be the best strategy, one that makes me the happiest when I can remember to employ it. Remember, we’re not promised an endless amount of them. Waiting for that day when we’re going to reach some ideal, to “be happy” means not taking advantage of a lot of days in between that could have been a lot of fun. Yes, some of those days will suck. I’d like to think the fun and memorable ones make up for it.

You can look at the glass half-full if that’s your choice, and I won’t judge that. You can bitch about the glass being half-empty all day long, and that doesn’t bother me one bit, either. As for me, I just see a glass with equal amounts of volume and empty space, and think, “Well, that’s usually how life is, isn’t it?”

On really good days, my glass is filled with a chocolate martini, garnished with a cherry. I promise, that’ll give a little boost of positive thinking to anyone. :P

In the end, it’s just life. It’s good and bad, black and white, positive and negative. But as long as you have a tomorrow, you have a chance to do it all over again. In my experience, the cherry will be there when you least expect it. However, when you demand the cherry on top, that’s the day the kitchen will be out of them.

“I had internalized messages during my youth—messages of being too big, too loud, too passionate.I had been told by my experiences that people stayed around longer if you made your needs as brief and palatable as possible, and then went about your day becoming exactly who they need you to be.

I remember the exact day when I realized that I could, instead, choose to be myself.”

—-Mara Glatzel,Medicinal Marzipan

Being yourself isn’t always an easy thing to do, especially in a world full of people who look at the concept as something that’s weird, scary, unconventional, or something worthy of shaking your head at disapproval. For a world full of people who all want to grow up to be celebrities for one reason or another, there’s a total lack of awareness of what it really means to put yourself out there. You know when you put yourself, or some public image of yourself, out for public consumption and people tear you down just for being you? Multiply that by tens of thousands, and that’s what it’s like to be a celebrity or public figure.

Being yourself requires you to be a strong person. Remember when someone told you, as a kid, “Be yourself, and everyone will like you?” Well, it took you five minutes of social interaction in the world to realise that person straight out lied to you. What they really meant you to learn is “Smile, conform, fit in, and pretend to be just the same as everyone else, and you’ll be accepted.”

Accepted, maybe. But will you stand out, make an impact, fulfill your dreams, make the most of your potential, take chances? Never. You’ll get sucked into a quiet comfort zone of acceptance and security, and as you grow older, that translates into a seemingly secure and traditional career path, a car you can’t really afford, a house, a spouse, a dog, a cat, and a few interests you mostly keep to yourself. If you’re young and single, you’ll spend your time looking flawless, making your life sound exciting and perfect, and remind the recently-Botoxed ladies sipping martinis at your table that you are someone to be envied. If you’re a bit older and have children, you’ll sip lattes with the even-more-recently Botoxed crowd, and smile perfectly while you point out that your child, whom you’ve named Kieran or Brendan or Madison or something that implies your child will never pick up a dirty sock in his/her life, is so far advanced for his/her age. That is life, of course. Conformity, playing nice, following the rules, and realising the reward is “I get to pretend I’m better than you whenever possible.”

When is the last time you spent time with someone, even a close friend, who stripped away all the bullshit and was completely honest, authentic, and willing to “be themselves” with you? Look around your world. It’s less common than you think, unless you intentionally make it otherwise.

I happened to, recently, cross paths with a 21-year-old sorority girl, properly coiffed dyed blonde hair and perfect manicure in place, along with an attitude that said “I’m not here for your approval”. Yet, despite my attempts at conversation, she pretty much ignored me, looking at me like I was the most boring person in the world. When, after the group had a few drinks, I turned up the charisma a little bit to include off-colour comments and snarky remarks, she actually told me “Shhhhh. People can hear you”., as if I were a five year old child in need of correction.

This girl, who tried so hard to exude enough confidence that other females would believe she wasn’t in need of any approval and loved her perfect life, was made uncomfortable by the fact that I would say anything I wanted to say without really giving a shit if a total stranger overheard me. That’s when I realised this: I am old. I don’t spend my time faking confidence and pretending to be comfortable around people. I have spent so much time “being myself” in social situations that I don’t even remember how often that can be scary and off-putting to others.

Not shockingly, she immediately re-seated herself at a dinner party to talk to the only two single, available men who were interested in making her the centre of attention, and convinced them to leave the dinner, and the rest of the group, which was too “lame” for her tastes. Prior to her re-seating herself, I’d been having conversation with these people, and it obviously didn’t occur to her that it was more rude to interrupt someone’s conversation to deflect attention to yourself than to tell a joke in a loud, boisterous tone that made old Southern women scowl at your lack of class.

Whatever. I know I’m a classy bitch. New York *totally* wants me back. :P

I remember being that girl, in some shape or form, always needing to compensate for some insecurity by making others think I was unapproachable, remaining a little aloof, to give the impression that “I’m just a little out of your league”. I would hijack your party and take people elsewhere, turning it into my party without a second thought that I was being disrespectful to the host. It didn’t occur to me that it should matter, honestly. Being that girl was a way to deflect any kind of insecurity; “As long as you pay attention to me, I have the validation I need.”

Except, the thing is, there’s never enough attention in the world to provide the validation that comes from “being yourself”.

One of the harshest things anyone ever told me, back when I was 25 or so, and still approached the entire world as my stage and every time I left my apartment, it was a public appearance…was that I wasn’t real. This actually came from someone who was sufficiently charmed by me, regardless, to invest time and energy and affection in me…so it proves men can be a little hypocritical, and still want your company when you’re 25 and attractive, “real” or not….but he said, at an event, “Every time I spend time with you, I feel like I’m spending time with a character, and not a real person.”

That person isn’t someone who I kept in my life, or I’d care to say hello to if we ever crossed paths, but he did provide me with that one sage-if-hurtful piece of advice. I knew that “being myself” was being someone who didn’t fit in here in the South, someone who was loud and boisterous and weird and flamboyant and covered herself in glitter and says “Ooooo!” to stuff a 6-year-old girl would love. So, I tried to reinvent myself, to put on a version of me that would be socially acceptable to a world I found very judgmental, very superficial, and very insecure.

Long story short: That didn’t work. That didn’t work to such an extreme I almost ended up being driven out of town by hate and judgment and gossip, about less than half of which was true.

After that, I said, “Fuck it”, and took “being myself” to a whole other extreme. If I couldn’t be accepted and perfect and flawless, I was going to shock everyone with my unconventional ways.

That was actually pretty fun, for awhile. But it also didn’t work. I felt there was nobody in my life, save a handful of people, who really knew me or cared about me. I didn’t trust anyone. And while you can combat the scandal of a bad reputation in a small town that pretends it’s a city (like Atlanta) by exaggerating your notoriety and making jokes at your own expense, at some point, you realise that what you need is a new perspective.

I never decided I was, one day, going to wake up and “be myself”. I was just too tired of caring what everyone else thought to do it anymore. And once I did, I found a whole group of people who never would have been scandalised by any of my behaviour—past, present, or future. I found friends who stuck around for years and years. I found people who made fun of my quirks, but still loved me and supported me. As soon as I bothered to be who I was, I found it easy to invite people in my life who liked that person.

I can still be a little guarded, a little insecure. I’ve learned the hard way to choose my friends wisely. I don’t open up easily. I have thousands of acquaintances, and a select group of friends. Some people still don’t like me because I’m “too much”, or flamboyant, or downright odd. They don’t think my stories about dating equally odd, “high-profile” people or anecdotes about the silly situations I got myself into before I was older and wiser are entertaining, and I don’t blame them. You can’t please everyone, and “being myself” does often mean being weird, unconventional, flamboyant, and saying things that cause others to turn bright red. I get how some people, especially in the South, especially those who aren’t particularly secure in themselves, don’t like that. I get how my snarkiness annoys others in the same way overly perky, upper-induced people make me want to go home and listen to Nirvana. (I think one of my favourite people, Dorothy Parker, would highly approve.) Some people just don’t like me when I’m “being myself”. And, yet, some people are devoted admirers because of those things.

Being sick over the past year really put things into perspective for me, made me seek out different kinds of friendships, forced me to become more introspective, gave me the opportunity to see things in other people I’d previously missed. I’ve become not only more self-aware, but generally more intuitive and perceptive as a result of needing to take time out from the world. I’ve become a huge fan of one-on-one interactions with others, and realised just how much I hate “clubbing”, and maybe, I secretly always did. I’ve learned that most of my insecurities over the years weren’t real (if you think you’re fat at a size 6, there’s nothing like gaining 30 pounds and five years to make you re-evaluate that girl you judged so harshly.) I’ve learned that most of what was off-putting to people wasn’t that I dared to be my unconventional self, but because there were so many times when I didn’t. I was a social hypocrite, like so much of the world, living one way behind closed doors, yet putting on another face for social occasions. I didn’t let anyone in, didn’t let people get too close. Most of my relationships had an element of superficiality to them I wouldn’t tolerate now.

Yes, as it turns out, I am kind of old. Because I can’t go back to being that faux-perfect-looking, alpha-female, “slightly too good for you” 21-year-old girl, mostly because I know I’m not going to grow up to be that same, even more successful, more socially appropriate 31-year-old-woman. I’m going to realise that’s not me, it never was, and if that means I’m not as appreciated as I should be as a consequence, it’s more likely because I’m in the wrong setting than anything about me is flawed.

Out of all of life’s lessons, “be yourself” is the hardest to learn, mostly because we’re conditioned at such an early age to learn there are social repercussions if yourself happens to be kind of not like everyone else.

Here’s the memo: Everyone else isn’t like everyone else, either. They’re just more people who are scared to be themselves, and believe there’s safety in numbers.

Conformity and blending in isn’t happiness. It’s just one more way in which you’re doing the world, and yourself, a disservice. I have a magnet on my refrigerator, with a quote reading “Stop spending your time trying to be regular. It robs you of the chance to be extraordinary.”

I got fired from my “regular” job yesterday, a primary source of income and responsibility in my life for well over two years. I’m still processing, and not ready to write about it, or deal with the sudden lack of security and constancy this represents in my world. Strangely, it feels like a loss, yet a loss that has freedom as a side effect. I slept 12 hours in a row last night, peacefully, when I should be worried as hell about my future.

Instead, I wonder if someone taking away the safety of being regular is what it takes to remind me that I’m extraordinary, and should be focusing my energy on doing extraordinary things…or at least living a life that makes me happy, instead of settling for one that resembles “secure adulthood”.

Despite the fact that I’m hardly a dating authority, it amuses me that I get questions from both real life friends and readers of this blog whom I’ve never met, regarding the big questions pertaining to dating and relationships. I do hate to disappoint, but I don’t actually have the answers. I just have some viewpoints based on personal experience, and my own unique personality. You may be nothing like me, and find out that what works for me doesn’t work for you at all. :)

Nevertheless, I received an interesting note in the comments section from a young lady who is bothered by the fact that she’s spending time with a guy who always looks around the room whenever they go out together, and wonders if being bothered by this makes her too sensitive.

You’ve come to the right place for advice on this one, friendly blog reader. As it happens, I have a personal pet peeve regarding spending my time with guys who suffer from “wandering eye syndrome”.

Obviously, this habit of looking around all the time, turning the head or body away when an attractive woman walks by, not paying attention to a word you’re saying because the guy’s eyes are staring at someone else, or actually getting up and leaving you to talk to an available attractive female is unacceptable in a committed romantic partnership. However, I find it unacceptable behaviour in virtually any context, and that’s just how it is with me. I’m not going to allow myself to feel diminished by someone saying, via words or action, “I like your company, but I’m going to pay attention to someone who interests me more”.

I shouldn’t have to. Why in the world would I? My company is way more valuable than that, and I know it.

Most girls don’t, so they tolerate it. They worry that demanding more makes them bitchy or “oversensitive.” It doesn’t. It just means you’ve set standards for yourself, so kudos on that. I’ve ended up never going out with someone again or ending a friendship over some of these more extreme examples, because if there’s one thing I don’t enjoy, it’s being disrespected.

Certainly, there are levels of tolerance for this behaviour based on your relationship with someone. If it’s coming from a husband, fiance, or monogamous male partner, it’s way more of a problem than if it’s something that happens when you’re out with a platonic male friend.

However, there are many different types of relationships, and many different situations where “wandering eye syndrome” is a problem. For instance, if I’m on a first or second date with someone, I realise this person is obviously keeping his options open. However, if you’re that open that you can’t focus on getting to know me because you saw boobs walk by, you’re probably not for me. I’m not going to be calling you back, 100% guaranteed.

Likewise, if I am in an open relationship and have a secondary partner or “friend with benefits” in my life, I’m well aware I am not the only female in this person’s universe. However, when that person is spending time with me, I am. If we’re not in a monogamous relationship, you can do whatever you want (as long as you respect our agreed upon guidelines), but NOT EVER when I am in the room. Sorry, but I have to insist anyone I’m involved with, even if it’s not exclusive, or we’re not going to end up getting married and living happily ever after, shows me a certain amount of respect and interest. It’s freaking rude to hit on someone in front of anyone you’re currently sleeping with, and you have all the time we don’t spend together to meet other attractive women. This kind of relationship can be very complex and full of drama, or it can be very simple. I prefer to keep it simple, by having “relationship rules” that work for me. One of them is, “You may be seeing other people, and we may even discuss it, but respect me enough to keep that out of our time together.” If you don’t have the attention span, interest in spending time with me, or level of self-control where that guideline works for you, we’re not compatible, and probably should not have any kind of romantic involvement, period.

Of course, there are exceptions to the romantic relationship rule. You may be in a happily monogamous relationship with a guy who is a hopeless flirt, and it doesn’t bother you…except, the truth is, sometimes it does, but you don’t mention it. You may be in a happily poly relationship that’s going so well that it’s time for your primary and secondary partners to meet, and maybe they just happen to hit it off fabulously. In these cases, you’re just going to have to expect that someone paying attention to others is part of the package. But, for the most part, whether you’re committed, seeing other people, or just open; married or dating; on your first date or your fiftieth, you should expect that the other person has gone out with you to spend time with you and connect with you, not scour the room for other objects of interest. Of course, that’s just my personal opinion. I know other people who disagree, and are apt to categorise my way of looking at things as “high-maintenance” or “oversensitive.”

The place where it starts to get confusing, for many girls, is when it comes to spending time with male friends. I have some male friends I actually used to date or have hooked up with at some time in the past, some that I’ve been attracted to at some point, some who’ve been attracted to me at some point, and some where that kind of chemistry never once entered the occasion—and the disinterest in anything beyond friendship has always been mutual and obvious. So, whatever your past history or current feelings towards your friend, is it rude when your friend stops paying attention to your presence because someone else has caught his attention?

In a nutshell: yes. This doesn’t just apply to male friends, but all friends in general. If I’ve taken time out of my life to have dinner with you, I expect a little more regard from you than “Sorry, I didn’t hear you” because you were staring at something or someone else. I mean, I didn’t have to go out to dinner with you, and I certainly didn’t do so to feel invisible.

Again, there are exceptions. I’ve gone to singles’ bars with single friends, with the express purpose of helping them meet someone, and as a result, had to find my own way home. I invited an ex-boyfriend, a shy guy who hadn’t had luck finding any serious potential dates since our long-term relationship ended, to a party where he didn’t know anyone. He ended up leaving me as soon as we arrived to talk to a girl who caught his interest, and is now his wife. I can’t really fault him for that one. If the purpose of an outing with friends is to meet dating prospects or hook up, you can’t feel ignored, abandoned, or slighted when this happens…even if you have a huge secret crush on the friend you accompanied to the singles’ bar. (and why would you do that anyway?)

On the other hand, I’ve been on first dates where the guy I was with kept looking at the door like he was expecting someone the entire time. This clued me in that either he wasn’t interested, was a player, or was married. I’ve been out at a dive bar with a platonic friend who began rudely ignoring me to talk to a stripper who worked at the establishment next door, leaving me sitting completely alone and out of my element for some time. I’ve traveled 800 miles to visit a friend, who then pretty much ignored me the rest of the evening because he was more interested in talking to another single friend I brought out with me. I’ve gone to visit a friend in another city, attended a party with him where I didn’t know a single person, and had him abandon me for the night because I wasn’t as attractive of a girl as he was looking for, but he met someone who was. All of these were incredibly uncool scenarios where I ended up feeling as disposable and insignificant as the gum stuck to the bottom of someone’s shoe, while simultaneously knowing I deserved a little more respect and regard from anyone who called me a friend. And, incidentally, these are all examples of situations that occurred with male friends with whom I didn’t have a romantic or physical relationship. You can imagine how colourful some of the others are. :P

Time is a precious commodity, and we don’t have unlimited amounts of it. I generally look to populate my universe with those genuinely interested in spending time with me. If someone isn’t, is halfhearted about it, or is always putting the potential hook-up above friendship, I don’t know that I’m that interested in keeping the friendship as part of my life. I don’t really spend time going to dinner or having drinks or catching up with acquaintances. That’s just me. I’m kind of hard to get to know on a one-on-one basis, and while I know a lot of people, I’m not very invested in those I know socially. I know I’ll always see them around. If I’m spending time with you one-on-one, it’s because we’ve achieved a certain level of respect, friendship, and emotional intimacy. It’s because, for one reason or another, I care about you or you interest me in a way that puts you amongst a select group of people. Because of this, I tend to develop extremely strong, long-term friendships…but am very choosy about them. I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. And if I turn down your dinner invite, it’s not personal. :P

I used to be as bad about disrespecting friends and romantic partners as anyone on the planet. I didn’t have the “wandering eye” problem, but I’d go to a party with one person only to leave with another. I was so inconsiderate that The Guy I Am Currently Dating, before we were actually dating but I knew he was interested in me, offered to drive me to another guy’s house—as well as the other guy—because the other guy was too drunk to do so. I had a friend come visit me, declare his attraction to me, and in order to deal with the uncomfortable situation, I got drunk and made out with some guy I didn’t even know or like very well. I’d have friends invite me to lunch or for drinks, and incapable of introverted communication, would immediately turn the event into something I invited 5 other friends to. It is clear that genuine intimacy terrified the hell out of me at this point in my life, and I went to all lengths to avoid it…but I was really hurtful towards others throughout the process of growing up.

Looking back, I see how reprehensible this behaviour was, and how I generally had no respect for the feelings of others, or concern for anyone but myself. I really was honestly one of the most self-absorbed and callously hedonistic people you’d ever meet, and it took a swift kick in the ass from life to get me to grow up. I think this is why I judge this behaviour so harshly in others, and have very little tolerance for it. I see not just the behaviour itself, but the selfishness and disregard for others that lurks behind it…and no matter what our relationship, I tend to not have space for that in my world. It’s something that’s going to piss me off, make me cry, or leave me confused because I know I deserve better from people, but am not getting it.

So, in reply to the person who came seeking advice about the “guy who looks around the room all the time when he’s with me”, I can only say that I don’t know this guy or what kind of relationship you have with him, but you deserve better, too. If the relationship is romantic or physical in any way, take it as a “He’s just not that into you” sign. If it’s a friend you’re interested in, find someone else worthy of your interest. If it’s a friend who is a purely platonic friend, realise he’s more interested in looking for dating options than your friendship, and take it or leave it as you wish.

No matter what, it’s worth having a discussion about. I once considered not spending time with someone because whenever we were out, his eyes would constantly move around, or he wouldn’t make eye contact, and I’d feel I wasn’t being heard. I finally brought it up, and expressed my frustration. He apologised and explained he had ADD, and sometimes, it was hard for him to sit still and focus on any one thing, task, or person for too long. It isn’t always personal, so if someone really matters to you, don’t just jump ship before bringing it up.

However, if someone abandons you at a bar or a party, or you’re out on a date and you excuse yourself, only to find them elsewhere, talking to a hotter/more interesting/more sexually available person, just move on. If you’re dating someone who flirts with others in your presence, including your friends, to the point that it makes you uncomfortable, it’s probably time to move on. There are enough people out there who will assign you greater respect and value that you don’t need to try to make excuses for that behaviour. It hurts when this happens, but there are many people who will move heaven and earth to spend time with you.

Why not demand that level of value, instead of trying to convince someone who doesn’t see it that you’re worth it? You’ll never convince that person, whereas someone else may offer it freely, just because you’ve put it out there that you don’t intend to settle for less.

Although I’m happily in a relationship, I do have to admit that I rather miss the days when emotions such as disinterest and indifference were not the standard reactions my presence evoked from other people, particularly the male members of my social circle.

Perhaps I’ve lost a bit of my charm and youth and vitality over the years, but there’s still plenty there to not be indifferent about.

Somehow, I feel as if I’ve lost my ability to fascinate and interest others and draw them into my world, and that’s never anything I had to work to achieve. It would simply happen. Social events were never work, never draining affairs.

These days, in large groups and social situations, that magical natural gravitation that ensures others are interested in knowing me, or knowing me better, does not always happen…and I sometimes feel invisible.

It may seem shallow, but it hurts when you can no longer take for granted that you’re the most compelling person with whom to converse, and others demonstrate vis a vis their behaviour that perhaps you’re not.

Throughout my life, I’ve never been the kind of girl relegated to sitting quietly in the corner, while attractive and interesting people talk amongst themselves. In fact, if nobody is paying attention to me, I often see it as a cue to leave, because I feel as if the people around me will manage just fine without my presence.

The older I become, the more often I feel this way.

I’m not certain I know how to accept that particular role with dignity and grace, and thus, I greatly dislike feeling ignored. Perhaps that’s what happens to women once they’ve hit 30, and lost their joie de vivre. They are meant to gracefully retire from occupying the centre of attention whenever possible.

But, indifference and disinterest make me feel exactly like the sort of person I am: an aging, insecure performer without an audience.

There are very few people or groups of people who truly make me feel wanted these days. On the contrary, I spend a good deal of time feeling largely irrelevant.

Perhaps, in a certain way, I’m happier in seclusion, where I’m the most relevant and interesting person in the room, because nobody else is here, and the television does not count as a person. :P

Today, I came across another interesting article about diet, culture, and the rapidly-changing face of the modeling industry…and of women in general.

(Please note, this article I’ve linked to may be NSFW because of semi-nudity and suggestive posing.)

These articles always interest me, as someone who spent a great deal of her life working in the entertainment industry, and frankly, living in a world where eating disorders were normal. In fact, amongst working models, actors, dancers, and other professional entertainers, it’s much easier to maintain the weight you strive to maintain because virtually everyone is on a diet that’s no-carb, no-sugar, no-meat, or, in some cases, no food. I learned in my teenage years from a group of ballet dancers that the best way to maintain weight is through eating nothing but an apple, a slice of cheese, a Diet Coke, and Reese’s PB Cups throughout the day..plus water, but not too much, to avoid bloating. If you live in New York, you’re constantly walking, jogging, or running everywhere, and are often too busy to even notice that food is literally everywhere, but you don’t eat it. Whether you’re working or not, you’ll attend a lot of social events, most of which involve drinking excessively…and, somehow, unless you’re chugging beer, the calories from a night of vodka tonics are less than if you’d stayed home eating a plate of pasta. In the world of performance and illusion, nobody wants to see a beautiful woman or a perfectly-sculpted guy shoveling food down like it’s going out of style.



Model Charlotte Carter, banned from catwalk for being a size 0.

In the real world, it’s harder. Food is everywhere, and people eat it, and it’s usually not healthy. Cooking takes time, and if you live in a city like mine, not having a car you spend 90 minutes a day sitting in is kind of like being an alien from another planet. Only about half of the neighbourhoods/suburbs are even slightly pedestrian-friendly. There are dog parks, but you have to drive your pooch in your car to get there, rather than go for a jog around the Central Park perimeter.

There has to be a balance, a happy medium, and most people don’t seem to find it. While I’m all for women feeling comfortable with their bodies and wanting to be accepted in all shapes and sizes, looking *healthy* should be the primary consideration in judging attractiveness.

 

 

The average model, at a size 2/4.

 

Personally, I’ve always struggled with body image. I’m a petite girl, barely 5 feet, and most grown women my size are shaped to be lovely pixies their entire lives, with tiny, delicate bone structure and no need for muscle tone, much less curves of any sort. However, I’m simply not shaped like that. I’m a girl that should have a size 4 body structure, but also has plus-size curves. Whether I like it or not, I’m Kim Kardashian. That’s just how I happen to be shaped, despite my petite size (and yes, everything is real.)

 

 

Somewhere along the line, I learned to deal with it. I even learned to embrace my lack of stature and my curves as something that made me unique. I wasn’t fat. I wasn’t skinny. I was just a healthy-looking, normal girl.

Then I got sick, and due to medication and sitting on my butt for 6 months, everything plumped up and filled out. I feel like a helium balloon, and would give anything to get rid of the 23 pounds that have joined my body. For a petite girl, that’s a sizable weight gain, enough to put me in the category of an unhealthy weight for my size. And since I gained the weight due to being unhealthy…I don’t like what looks back at me in the mirror. I see the excess flab on parts of my body that weren’t there previously, and horrible stretch marks that make me think I’ll never take my clothes off with the light on again, and that I may end up seeking cosmetic treatment when all is said and done, and the extra weight is gone.

Because I don’t like what I look like “plus sized”, it’s hard for me not to project that on to the model posing. Yes, she’s absolutely beautiful. Yes, the average American woman is a size 12-14. But clearly, she has extra deposits of fat on her body that I have learned, from personal experience, that only show up when you weigh more than is appropriate for your bone structure. Is the “plus sized” model a beautiful, normal woman? Yes. But is it healthy? Should we just accept that these days, we’re all a little chunkier than we should be?

 

 

I don’t know. Americans are living shorter life-spans than ever before, and it’s estimated that within less than a generation, three-quarters of us will be clinically obese. I understand that this model is portraying what most of us look like. But personally, when I look at the extra weight I’m carrying around on my own body, I’m inspired to want to get rid of it, not to embrace it. Because it isn’t healthy, and it isn’t attractive. It isn’t how I, as a person, am ideally designed to look. I’m proud of my curves, but I’m not proud of excess fat deposits that keep my dresses from zipping. In fact, I feel ashamed that I allowed illness and medication to defeat me, and to wreak havoc on my body.

On the other side of the scale, we’re all aware that the average woman is not a size 2. I have friends who are, and whenever were out in public, these girls get hit on by virtually every guy in existence. A real-life version of what’s being portrayed in magazines is rare, and therefore, infinitely more attractive than what’s typically seen. That’s why guys still fantasize about the size 2 models selling us virtually everything. Women who are perfectly normal and healthy are undergoing extreme measures to look like this, so they too can be seen as what they imagine is universally desirable.

 

 

I think, if the modeling world is going to make a change for the better, it needs to reflect reality. It needs to reflect people at an ideal body weight, people who are comfortable with themselves not because they are beautiful, but because they have healthy and strong bodies.

It takes illness to point out that a healthy and strong body is, in fact, one of the most attractive things. Any time you mistreat it…with too much food, or not enough…you’re not going to look as good as someone who has learned to maintain their ideal body weight for their build, bone structure, muscle tone, and level of curviness.

I personally don’t think the average American woman should strive to look like either of the models featured in this article….but if she does happen to look like one or the other, she shouldn’t feel any insecurity about that, either. Unless you suffer from disordered eating and body-image issues (and many Americans do, even if they do not engage in actively negative food-related behaviours, there are still some very disordered perceptions.), looking healthy for your unique being should be enough to make you feel good about yourself. And when you feel good about yourself and take care of your body, you can afford to put away the scale, perhaps for life. Some women look their best at 110 lbs, some at 150, some at 200. Despite what we’re ingrained to think, the number on the scale or on the clothes you wear has absolutely no relation to how attractive you look or feel.

 



Average American woman, at a size 14.

 

When I’m again at the point where I look at myself and see a healthy, fit person, I’m planning to follow my own advice, and ditch the scale. I did not own a scale for 5 or 6 years, and it was also the period of my life when I was happiest with myself, and I neither noticeably gained nor lost more than the same 5 pounds.

Unfortunately, that self-improvement endeavour may take the majority of 2012 to complete. Even without medicine and illness slowing me down, I won’t be reaching my goal weight until Dragon*Con (“We recommend you lose 0.8 lbs per week?” I think I ate a salad that was 0.8 lbs the other week. *lol*)

 

Pop sensation Adele, beautiful at size 16.

 

What I would not do, at this point in my life, is pose naked in a magazine to portray the average flaws of the average woman. So I give kudos for major self-confidence to women of all shapes and sizes to do that, and to be real enough to be photographed without makeup. I think it’s going to take awhile for the rest of us to catch up with being that comfortable with ourselves. ;)

There once was a woman who had one hundred faces. She showed one face to each person, and so it took one hundred men to write her biography”.

—Anais Nin

I must say, people end up on my page looking for some bizarre, dark, and morbid things. My analytics program has told me that recently, people found my page by Googling for “Amy Winehouse casket photos”, “Amy Winehouse autopsy photos”, and “Deaths On Atlanta Subway”.

Ugh. For those who don’t know me, I might have a very dark, Gothic kind of streak that runs through me, and I might think vampires are sexy (the Anne Rice ones, not the 16-year-old effeminate boys that glitter.), but I’m actually possessed of a pretty fragile constitution when it comes to blood, death, gore, and all that other stuff. I haven’t seen a horror flick since I was 11. You’ll never see any sort of blood or graphic violence on these pages. In fact, I’ve had to recently start de-friending well-meaning people on Facebook because they’re putting up pictures of cute dogs saying “This is Fido’s last day on earth. He will be executed tomorrow”, or because they’re putting up photos of abused children to let us know this is what happens when we don’t care. I’m all for the well-meaning causes, but my sensitive nature can’t handle seeing the photos and being reminded of the cruelty that surrounds us every day.

Anyhow, I’d originally meant to write about a topic that’s gruesome and heartbreaking in a completely different way: rejection.

I don’t think rejection is an experience any of us takes particularly well, because the natural response to being rejected is one of “What’s wrong with me? Why am I not good enough?” Sometimes, there are answers to that question: there are reasons you didn’t get the job you wanted, or a guy/girl you liked never called you back, or you put yourself out there and things weren’t a rousing success. Other times, though, that’s just the way things are, and nothing about you or how you handled the situation could have changed the outcome.

I have a number of talented, intelligent, beautiful friends in the world that I see limiting themselves due to fear of rejection, and this behaviour is so ingrained in them, I don’t think they recognize it. I have a friend who is one of the smartest people I know, but never puts himself out there to get rid of the job he hates, allowing him to find out what he really wants to do. I have another friend who is so physically attractive that there is never anyone who doesn’t notice her when she is in the room…but she lacks the confidence to go anywhere by herself, or to approach strangers without the company of a friend. The more I look around my world, the more I see tons of examples like this.

Growing up in the world of performance, I experienced a lot of rejection at an early age. It’s one world in which going on a job interview is liable to give you feedback that is hurtful enough to make you cry on the spot, but you don’t. It hurts everyone in the world to hear you’re not talented enough, not attractive enough, not graceful enough, too short or too tall, too fat or too skinny, or that you should consider cosmetic surgery to improve your image. It hurts every single person who’s been told they’re forgettable, or come across as someone the average person will dislike. But it’s part of the job, so you go home, you cry, you think mean, negative things about yourself, you think mean, negative things about everyone else, and you go to the next audition, and the next, and the next.

I also didn’t necessarily grow up in the healthiest, most loving family environment, and hearing a list of the ways in which I failed or wasn’t good enough was a weekly, if not daily, concern. The result was a tendency toward perfectionism: I told myself I would keep on working and unfailingly try to improve myself until everyone loved me and found me irresistible.

Of course, this is a far from healthy mindset, particularly when it leads you to secret, in-the-closet self-destructive behaviour, as it did for me…and many like me. But it never occurred to me that I couldn’t handle rejection or I didn’t like myself. Instead, I spent a lot of time looking at myself from a cold, almost removed point of view, seeing everything there was not to like about me and vowing to become a more perfect person. I thought being perfect would lead me to being loved, and until I got there, I didn’t deserve love or appreciation.

It wasn’t until after I moved to Atlanta and stopped performing that these issues became apparent. I didn’t love myself, and I didn’t truly expect anyone else to love me, but I’d gotten so used to hiding behind a wall of arrogance and fearlessness that said “Fuck you, I don’t care if you like me or not.”, that I didn’t consider it a problem. When a relationship ended or I got fired from a job, I didn’t handle it well. But I had no doubt that life would go on, and that jobs and relationships were replaceable. And at the same time, I was crumbling from the weight of my own imperfection.

At the end of a particularly difficult and intense relationship, I asked my partner how he didn’t know for sure that I wasn’t the right person for him. (He’d suggested we “take a break” and “see other people”, which, in my years before discovering the world of polyamoury, translated to “I’m really just over you”…which, in many cases, it does.) I remember standing in front of the coat closet in my apartment, and him saying, “I know, because when I look around the world and see attractive, capable, confident women, I find myself wondering what it would be like to be with them instead of you.”

And that was the first time I realised just how brutal rejection can be for certain types of people. It isn’t just about hearing “no”. It’s about something more personal, all the ways in which you’ve failed—failed to be perfect, failed to live up to “potential”, failed to make someone else happy. That failure has always been something I can’t live with, something I struggle with on a daily basis.

People often tell me I’m socially fearless. I’ll go up to anyone and introduce myself. If I’m attracted to someone, I’ll let that person know in a pretty straightforward way. I’ll sit in a formal restaurant by myself, and take the NYC subway home at 5 AM alone. I’ll travel the world myself…and in some ways, prefer that. There are few “dares” that get a flat refusal from me.

On the inside, though, I’m constantly struggling with the fear that someone won’t like me….and it’s no accident that I’ve not only gone through my life encountering people who don’t like me, but despise everything I embody and actively work to humiliate me or bring me down. I’m constantly struggling with the knowledge that I’m not as beautiful as this person, as smart as this other person, as gracious and likeable as another. Some days, I wonder how or why anyone could love me at all…because I never figured out how to be perfect. I never figured out, even, how to look in the mirror and see someone others will like.

I still often have the desire to act out in self-destructive ways nobody ever has to know about, to add to my list of imperfections. I often wish I could just escape from the world at large for a few months, and re-emerge as a happier, skinnier, more attractive, more accomplished, healthier person. I never do these things, but the desire for that to happen doesn’t disappear…and the belief that I’m surrounded by people who love and support me despite being so imperfect never quite sinks in.

I’m writing about this topic because recently, a few people have talked to me about how hard it is to meet people, how dating is a challenge, and even approaching people can be difficult. I do understand. Particularly in Atlanta, a city besieged by the “If everything about me appears perfect, everyone will love me” mentality, the tendency to get to know others for who they are is often not there…because it requires a vulnerability people aren’t willing to reveal. I understand just as well as anyone. In some ways, this is the worst possible place for someone with my particular set of issues to live (though Dallas is very close behind, and Miami even worse.) , because it’s filled with people with the same issues and insecurities who also have the money and the dedication to do something about what they don’t like in themselves, whether it’s apparent in a high-powered job, a new car, perfect teeth, discrete nips and tucks, or the need to appear like a carbon-copy of their best friends.

I’m not socially fearless, by any means. But what I’ve learned is that if you don’t forget about yourself long enough to reach out to others, you’ll spend your life by yourself. Nobody is perfect, nobody is out of your league, and even if rejection hurts, it doesn’t always have a single thing to do with you. No matter how great you are, everyone will not like you. Everyone will not be charmed by you, find you attractive, or even care to converse with you. Some may even instantly dislike you, for reasons that don’t matter and you may never know.

The important thing is that some people WILL like you, find you attractive, want to get to know you, see something special in you. And the person you’re afraid to talk to? Well, he or she has a secret list of insecurities and fears and baggage just as long as yours.

So, talk to a stranger. Go to a movie by yourself. Apply for a job you don’t think you’re good enough to land. Ask that person you’ve had a secret crush on to go out on a date. And if there are things you’d like to improve about yourself, whether it’s getting in shape or going back to school, it’s never too late to make those changes. In fact, if you’re like me, you try to re-commit yourself to building a better life pretty frequently.

Being open to whatever comes along seems to work the best for me. Trying too hard to make things work and beating myself up over my repeated “failures” is a personal self-destructive trigger, and will send my life in a direction I’d rather not go. In the immortal words of a legend, “You can’t always get what you want..but if you try sometimes, you just might find you get what you need.”

Life has a way of pointing that out…even if you don’t know what you need, the Universe sometimes seems to.

Forget about yourself for a little while. Try. Take a chance. Put yourself out there. And whatever comes back, know that you’re better for the experience, because it’s never about the results. It’s about knowing you don’t have to be perfect in order to be loved, liked, appreciated, or successful. If you did, none of us would ever be happy or do anything worthwhile.

One of my long-time favourite bloggers, the charming Gala Darling, has started a frank and open dialogue on her blog this week about body image issues, and how the media affects how we perceive ourselves and others, and how the blogosphere is as much of a culprit in the war against self-acceptance as any other form of mainstream media. It’s a very thought-provoking topic, and brings me to my personal challenge for the day.

Day #6:

 

Refuse To Be Ruled By Insecurity

Obviously, unlike some of the other “less ordinary” ideas I’ve posted recently, this isn’t something you can check off your list in a day or so. For most of us, insecurity is a problem that’s taken a lifetime to develop, and nothing is going to cause you to magically love yourself. However, taking the time to work on feeling better about yourself, accepting your uniqueness, and making the most of what makes you special is far more productive than standing at the mirror, mentally pointing out all the things that make you feel inferior.

Getting involved in the world of the performing arts in childhood, for me, meant being exposed to body image issues and insecurity is something that happened at a fairly early age. It’s one thing to go through life feeling inferior, always mentally reminding yourself that you aren’t that special, that you’re not as thin, not as pretty, not as talented,, not as interesting as the next girl. That’s tough on the self-esteem, naturally. But,as a performing artist, you’re repeatedly putting yourself out there for criticism, living in a world that will tell you it doesn’t want you because you’re too fat or too thin, too tall or too short, too plain, too All-American, too ethnic, too virtually anything that you might be is enough of a reason for someone to tell you straight-up they’re not interested in you.

It’s a harsh world, one that aspires to not only perfection, but even then, a type of perfection that’s never attainable. In reality, the most successful performers are those that own who they are, rise above the feedback, and have enough confidence to present an unabashed version of themselves. There are, of course, ways to compensate for that confidence, if you lack it—as the old saying goes, “Fake it until you make it”—but showing insecurity or fear of being judged is the best way to ensure you don’t hired. Even Lady Gaga, the most well-marketed pop sensation since Madonna, hides behind flashy costumes, outrageous makeup, and being as scandalous as she wants to be, while telling an audience full of admirers what she wanted to hear throughout her life as a performer, “You’re special just the way you are, and there’s a place for you, so don’t be afraid.”

It’s pretty easy to do when you have a well-crafted, much-loved image to hide behind. Most performers need to create much more subtle versions of their own image, one that doesn’t give the outward presence of being artificial—but still protects the person inside from demons like judgment, insecurity, and inadequacy. It’s no wonder that many artists, after years of performing, training, schooling, etc., find themselves out in the real, 9-to-5 world not being as accepted, liked, or admired as they’d prefer to be. I once had someone tell me the reason people didn’t like me was because nothing about me seemed real, like I was a character out in the world, rather than a real person. I thought about this more than a little, since the person who said it was someone I’d known for awhile (and later did me great personal harm, so as it turned out, really DIDN’T like me much.), and realised I understood the observation. Being a performer, to a certain extent, means creating a wall between yourself and the rest of the world, a way to protect the fragile pieces inside, and to be tough enough to survive with your confidence intact—and to compete, and win.

It’s not that much different in the “real world”, at least I don’t think so. It’s just that many people are unaware they’re putting those walls up, and others are unaware that without those walls, they’re likely to find themselves trampled upon. Everyone wants to compete, and win, and one of the weapons of choice in life seems to be finding opportunities to cut down your competition. Judging others, gossiping about others, making assumptions about people, and passive-aggressive tricks to create feelings of insecurity and inadequacy are extraordinarily common among even the most educated, talented, and accomplished of women.

In my case, it wasn’t until I spent a few years in the “real world” that I realised how cruel that place could be, and how it was much more difficult to protect yourself from what the world had to say about you, than from a director that refused to give you a job or a photographer that didn’t find your look appealing. Suddenly, all my defenses stopped working. I gained 20 pounds. I didn’t go out of the house to socialise for three months. And, I stopped being able to put myself out there—to go on auditions, to look for work, to flirt with someone I found attractive, to even get up and sing in front of friends, or play games where I risked looking silly. All of the sudden, I felt like what I perceived myself to be—a short, chubby, weird-looking girl that people didn’t like, and always talked about.

After a lifetime of “Fake it until you make it” in the confidence department, I’d started to believe in myself, knowing that whatever my flaws, I had a certain amount of charisma, appeal, and “star quality” working for me. After all, I’d always been a short, curvy, weird-looking girl, and I’d always had plenty of people who didn’t like me….as well as plenty of friends. I landed roles, got noticed positively for my uniqueness, was fairly popular, and had no problems in the dating department. My general attitude toward myself made it easier for me to brush off the rejections, the haters, the things I always disliked about myself.

A particularly negative experience with other people, and ultimately with myself, took that away from me. On one hand, it’s the worst thing that ever happened to me—and on the other hand, it’s the best. I’m learning to love myself in a more real, unconditional way, and learning that being loved by others can be real and unconditional, too. You don’t have to be perfect, thin, beautiful, accomplished, or rich to be loved…you just have to open yourself up to it, which is an extraordinarily difficult task, when you’re always hiding for fear of being hurt.

In reality, there’s no way to protect yourself from that. No matter how perfect, thin, beautiful, accomplished, or rich you are, there will always be someone to judge you, someone waiting to tear you down….and you’ll find that everything you thought would make you happy ultimately did very little. You’ll find yourself constantly hiding, limiting yourself, retreating from life, while simultaneously thinking you’re very free and open and confident enough to put yourself out there.

In case you were wondering, here’s what the average American looks like—and it’s not what you’re seeing in any magazine.

Men:
Height (inches): 69.4 (5 feet, 9.4 inches)
Weight (pounds): 194.7
Waist circumference (inches): 39.7

Women:
Height (inches): 63.8 (5 feet, 3.8 inches)
Weight (pounds): 164.7
Waist circumference (inches): 37.0

In addition, the average non-surgically-enhanced woman wears a 36B bra size, and has 39″ hips, making her between a size 12 and a size 14 for most clothing designers. Although this is average, a size 12 or 14 is considered “plus” size for many designers, and some choose not to manufacture their clothing in these sizes.

Unattainable perfection is the most dangerous illusion, because it leads to the idea that if only we can achieve it, we will finally be worthy of love and admiration, and protected from the possibility of being hurt. It leads to both men and women starving themselves, throwing up in the bathroom five times a day, drinking bottle after bottle to get through the tough times, taking drugs, having random sexual encounters, and mutilating their bodies, all in an attempt to punish themselves for not being a living example of unattainable perfection, and not deserving happiness.

Get out there and live your life, no matter how imperfect you think you are. Flirt with someone you find attractive, without assuming nobody would ever notice *you*. Eat a real meal with friends, carbs and all. Drink champagne to celebrate nothing special, except life. Fall in love. Travel. Open yourself up, without caring what others will say or what the photos will look like.

Personally, I’m going to spend this weekend wearing a few of the many cute outfits that have been retired and hiding in my closet because I think they make me look too fat, too voluptuous, too skanky, or someone else will criticise my quirky fashion sense. I’m going to ignore the scale, stop examining my flaws in the mirror, stop telling myself how unremarkable and unattractive I am. I’m going to get a pedicure, eat brunch, and remind myself that life isn’t an audition, and it’s not a competition.

It’s just life, and each of us is as well-equipped to participate as the next person—even if that person is thinner, richer, smarter, prettier, or has a better job.