Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Lie They Tell About Emma Watson and Me

emma watson, teen vogue, fashion, cool, popular, celebrity
by Lyndsey Graves

Today I went to the grocery store, the nice one here in Atlanta, and unlike the bargain-box store in my Syracuse neighborhood, it had rows and rows of magazines on the checkout line. I stood in that checkout line holding a can of beans and, for two full minutes, I stared at Emma Watson, wishing to be her. I tried the whole time to talk myself down, telling myself the picture was photoshopped and I don't have to have her cheekbones to be happy. But I really only felt one emotion: a nameless fusion of mild envy and despair.

This is why I normally don’t let myself look at magazines in stores, fixing my gaze instead on anything boring in order to avoid them - because they lie. Maybe one day I will have the serenity to glance at Emma's pixel-perfect skin and merely think, "Good for her," but I don't really think so; I don't think that's how the lie is supposed to work.

I'm not supposed to be content with myself. I'm supposed to buy serums, concealers, pastes, powders, relaxers, intensifiers, shields, infusions, masks, and moisturizers. I'm supposed to buy Zumba classes and Spanx and self-help books. It is important that I believe there is something wrong with me.

For years and years, I’ve believed the lie. In fact, I used to think that it would be prideful or dangerous for a Christian to be happy with him- or herself. Self-improvement has been a religion of mine for as long as I can remember – if you don't focus on your flaws, you're deceiving yourself; if you flaunt your strengths, you'll be an embarrassing show-off; if you're not good at something, you'd better work ceaselessly toward reaching your full potential.

So for me, it comes from everywhere. It comes from media messages so pervasive that I have taken to physically dodging them, and from the slightly-twisted brand of "pursuing holiness" that I've adopted: this deep-down belief that I cannot ever be content with myself, that I cannot ever know rest. More specifically, that failure to be and do everything perfectly is failure at all of life. That real people have no weaknesses, need no help, admit no failures. That I'll try harder tomorrow.

woman, mirror, sad, disappointed, beautifulThe truth is, I can't be and do everything. And neither can you. And this should be obvious to us, but it's not. We think that the perfect version of ourselves would be a carbon copy of some romantic-comedy-protagonist: good-looking, intelligent, hardworking, outgoing and funny, but also deep and profound; fit beyond belief, but also able to enjoy a big buttery meal. We think we can be creative and organized, have a best friend who's slightly uglier than us, be perfect mothers and daughters and friends and employees and girlfriends. 

But the thing about romantic-comedy-protagonists is that they're somehow entirely forgettable. More than that, they're not real - they're little gods. And that's really what we're trying to be. Flawless. Bigger than we are. Gods.

I've spent days and months of my life beating myself up for not being extroverted, ten pounds lighter, an early riser, more photogenic, more spiritually disciplined, concerned about strangers, or for not having a louder voice. And if I’m honest, in these areas of my life, if I can only accomplish the bare minimum, that’s me doing really well. 

You have your own list, too, of all the million things you think you should be. And I think it's time we all said, “I'm just not.”  God has those things, and he did not give them to me, and someone else will have to be them because I can't. I am not infinite. I am just me. And I trust that God doesn’t require me to be infinite, so I will not continue on the soul-crushing slog of pretending that I am.

I am not a detail person, and I used to think I should be. I used to think that every one of the ‘good’ people, the people who were doing it right, noticed and remembered everything. I would berate myself with terrible anger and derision whenever I forgot to bring a knife with my cake to an event, or missed an obvious step in some long math problem, or called the kitchen "clean" when others could point out the crumbs by the toaster and the pots on the stove.

But when I started my new job this year - only because I knew I'd let people down - I stopped trying to keep track of all the details. I learned to make lists and re-make them when I lost them and double-check them again, but I also learned to ask for help. I just looked at rooms full of people and said, “I can't do details.” I stopped being embarrassed when people reminded me of things that should have been obvious. 

And guess what? No one cared. No one looked around and said, "Where did we get this awful intern?" They only rarely laughed at me, and more importantly, they liked my big-picture, abstract, creative approach to my job.

Some things aren't so easy to own. It's a little counterintuitive to value introversion in the U.S. - people are always trying to fix your "shyness." Sometimes, I still feel deficient when every job description I read wants applicants to be a “creative planner, great at envisioning, and outside-the-box thinker” as well as “detail oriented to the core.” I worry whether taking a break from volunteering would make me a selfish person. And of course, the Vogue covers will always try to mock. 

facebook, like, bumper sticker, logo, iconIn a lot of ways, liking yourself can be a pretty radical decision - but I'm learning to do it. I'm learning that I don't have to be the airbrushed blonde or the sinless saint to be enough. I'm more of a normal-looking supporting character, the one with the quirky flaws and lame catchphrases who needs help, and I think, just maybe, God is wild about me anyway.

At least sometimes I do. The rest of the time I'm trying to fix my trust deficiency.

Lyndsey lives and works in Syracuse, NY. She majored in theology at Lee University, which is like eating cake or listening to thunderstorms - too enjoyable to be called work. Also, no one will pay you to do it. You can follow her on Twitter @lyndseygraves and you can find more of her writing at her blog To Be Honest.

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