women

How Do You Learn To Be Enough?

Photo by ByeByeTokyo/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by ByeByeTokyo/iStock / Getty Images

The older I get, the more important female friendships in my life have become. I have a handful of good friends, and some stellar acquaintances that pop in and out of my life, seemingly when I need them the most.


What I love about the women that I’ve become friends with, the ones who have somehow managed to plow past my awkwardness and not give a damn, is the sheer honesty. It’s beyond that though. It’s a frank Take No Bullshit approach that is truly both terrifying and enlightening.

 

I had two conversations lately with different friends. One is a narrator friend of mine and we talked about how hard it is in the industry when you’re faced with constant rejection. When you’re low on work, you send out emails, and if you don’t hear back, it feels like a rejection. Or when you don’t have work, surely it’s because you’re terrible and no one wants to hire you. Ever. Again. Or you audition and you’re ‘not the right fit’. Rejection rejection rejection. And then we talked about some of the males in our industry and how confident they can be. Almost cocky. We talked about this kind of attitude with a sense of awe, like, I would love to be that confident but if I do, I’ll be called a bitch and even more people will dislike me.

 

Then I was having breakfast with a good friend, and I was lamenting my writing career. How I’ve enjoyed self-publishing but what I really want is a contract. An agent. A publishing house to believe in me. “But why?” She asked. I gave her a ‘why do you think’ look. “No. I’m fucking serious,” she said. “Why do you want that affirmation? You’ve published seven or eight books now. When is that affirmation enough?” I told her I didn’t know. Then she gave me that “Of course you fucking know, you’re just being a wuss” look. (That is, actually, a look.)

 

“Fine,” I said. “Everything stems from my relationship with my dad. How he never really wanted me. Never saw me. And ultimately chose another woman’s children to be a father to because somehow my brother and I weren’t good enough for him. And everything I try to do is to show him that I am worthy of being loved. So everything stems from the fear that I’m not good enough and people have finally figured out the truth.”

 

I actually did say that and she nodded and said “Good. I thought you knew. I just wanted to hear you say it.”

 

So even knowing that I have a HUGE inferiority complex and I struggle with believing in myself…how do women do it? How, when faced with rejection, do you manage to keep going, keep fighting, keep trying again?

 

I really mean this.

 

I’d love some input, so I’m asking you, directly…you who are reading this…When you feel like you are not enough (not pretty enough, young enough, smart enough, talented enough, strong enough, enough enough) how do you square your shoulders, lift your chin and keep going? What are the things you tell yourself?

 

I just keep plugging along, hammering through, but I’m constantly afraid of people finding out I’m a fraud. And maybe it really does stems back to my father. Or maybe it’s something in society. Maybe there is something systemic that a confident woman, regardless of her age, weight, talent, success, etc, is unlikable somehow.

 

How do we learn to let it go, to be proud of who we are, to march forward knowing there is something unique in each of us that we offer every day?

 

Please let me know. I believe in the power of listening to others’ stories, and I’d love to hear yours. 

My Weight Is Not Your Business

Oh, I have struggled with whether or not I should write this. The truth is, I probably shouldn’t, but I can’t get my brain and my emotions to stop churning it over and over. And in thinking about it, I realized this has probably happened to a lot of women, and it makes me sad. Deeply, deeply sad that still women are judged according to our appearance and not our character, and our appearance seems to be everyone else’s business. My son and me in Empire this weekend.

This weekend I was mushroom hunting with my extended family and just happy to be with everyone. My mom brought a friend and in the woods they had a conversation about me, and the huge amount of weight I’ve gained. I guess my mom tried to defend me by saying I worked out and I wasn’t just lazy, but her friend wasn’t convinced. They said a lot of hurtful things about how I look. I guess that would’ve been fine, this conversation of theirs, everyone has their own thoughts…but they had the conversation in front of my eleven year old son. They’d seen him sitting in the car in front of them, windows down, but they just forgot he was there. My son listened, shocked, and came crying to me and asking me if I was fat and was I going to get diabetes. He wanted to know why his Nana was saying such terrible things about how I looked. “How can she do that?” he asked and I didn’t answer him because I didn’t know.

A few weeks ago, my ex sent me a vitriolic email saying that I needed to talk to our primary care physician because I obviously don’t understand healthy eating or nutrition and that I am actively trying to give our kids diabetes with the way that we must eat.

At conferences I attended, I had people approaching me with brainstorming ideas on healthy eating and how I could lose weight.

I didn’t ask for anyone’s help or opinion on my appearance. They offered it to me, complete with a heavy side of judgment. It’s as if my weight gain is some ticket for everyone to express disappointment in me as a person.

My body, the cause of much discussion, 5/24/16.

I weigh 173 pounds. I’m a size 12/14. This is average for a woman my age. I’m in my mid-forties and have two children. I have a sedentary job. And here’s the thing. I work out. I walk about 30 miles a week (12,000 steps a day). I eat lots of vegetables, lower carbs, healthy protein. I’m learning that as I enter pre-menopause, things are changing. I sometimes talk about lifestyle changes with people, but it’s as I learn that things I used to enjoy make me feel yucky. I don’t talk about diets. I’m not interested in dieting. I’m interested in learning to grow older with my body and to be okay with who I am as a person.

Funny thing is, I tried to lose weight this year…not because I felt bad about myself or was unhappy…but because of how other people have started to treat me. For three months and a few thousand dollars, I met with a personal trainer three times a week. I lost two pounds. But this wasn’t sustainable. I couldn’t afford it, and I couldn’t take off the time in the middle of the workday to work out for an hour and drive the twenty minutes there and back, not when I also needed to take time off to take my son to the therapist’s office, or to meet with my sister who is struggling, or to have yet another meandering conversation with my mother about her health. To lose the weight, I had to give up a glass of wine with dinner, an occasional dessert, and began focusing on everything I ate…and I felt guilty about everything I consumed. Every time I ate I felt like a failure. This is not the way to live.

In fact, the times in my life I’ve been the thinnest…are the times I’ve been the most unhappy. When I lived in New York and felt the kind of loneliness where I thought I could disappear and no one would notice. In my first marriage, where every day I disappeared a little more and was criticized for eating too much, not running enough, or wasting time writing when I should be focused solely on the kids. These were the times I was skinny. And you know what people said to me then? During those times I thought I could leave the planet and no one would care? “Tanya! You look so great! You’re so pretty!”

Looking at me now, you wouldn’t know the amount of stress that I’ve been shouldering this year. You also wouldn’t know that, somehow, I am happy in this body and in my life. I have a wonderful husband and two kids I love with every atom of my being. They help me carry the other things going on.

People don’t see that. They see someone who used to be skinny and has now ‘let herself go’. I haven’t let myself go. My body is changing. And you don’t have the right to comment on my appearance. No one comments on a man’s appearance with the kind of vitriol they use about women.

Here’s the thing: my body is not here for your pleasure. I am not an ornament. And while you may think these comments about my weight are offered from a good place in your heart, they’re not. They’re offered from a place of judgment and cruelty.

When did people lose the ability to filter or be kind to others? When did it become okay to say whatever you want to another human being? Has the Internet and trolling become so accepted that we can now look at someone else and let them know how much prettier they’d be if they could only Photoshop away all their flaws?

When did my body become a flaw?

Last week at school, my son was having a hard day. My son is an old soul, a deep thinker, possibly on the spectrum somewhere and there are days he is very sad. He doesn’t cover it up. He just IS. And a kid pointed at him in the lunch cafeteria and said: “Why don’t you just go kill yourself?”

I couldn’t believe this had happened, and then a part of me thought “Of course. It’s okay now to say whatever cruelty you want to another person.”

That night my son and I walked hand in hand around our beautiful neighborhood, the trees lush and green. He said, “Momma, people just don’t seem to know that words hurt. He hurt me. I feel bruised on the inside.”

“I know, baby,” I said. “Words can be sharp, can’t they?”

Words can cut.

Be aware of your power. Try to use it for good. When you have ugly thoughts about someone, instead of saying them, try to focus on something good. Take control back. Don’t assume that because someone weighs more than you think they should, that they should change. Maybe they don’t want to. Maybe they’re trying hard to but they can’t. Let them come to you if they want to. Otherwise, keep your judgment to yourself.

By writing this, I’m trying to take back control over my life. People can think what they want about me. I have no control over that. But I do have control of how I walk through this life…and I’m trying to do so with tenderness…and sometimes…an occasional sundae.

To The Women I Have Loved And Lost--A Blog Of Friendship

Kaly was my first love. Our Barbies humped in her room upstairs, her house slouching next to a gas station. We made them dresses and they were fashion queens and then when Ken came in, everything went to hell. I didn’t know then that I was creating a pattern in my life. Ken, the bastard, would always tear friendships apart. Then there was Katie. She had blonde hair like Sally in Charlie Brown. She wore plastic bangle bracelets, slouchy shirts, and puffy skirts. She played the piano while I sang Barry Manilow. We watched Madonna on MTV. We sang so loud we had to open the windows so our song could escape.

Missy lived across the street and we felt pressure to be friends because our moms were friends. I sat in her room and we listened to 45s. She played “I’m Your Venus” but I thought it was “I’m Your Penis” and I refused to sing it out loud, but wouldn’t tell her why.

I moved and my friends could not come with me. They slipped silently underwater.

Three of a kind

At my new school and now living with my dad and his wife and my new stepsiblings, I fumbled around for a good friend. My stepsister would become my life’s greatest love, and one of the most complicated. We went through everything together: our first period, first crushes, first heartbreaks. We snuck out once in the middle of summer to meet a couple of boys at the basketball court, but it was boring and we snuck home. We shared a bed and sometimes we’d kick each other, trying to hurt the other one. She lit her bangs on fire and we laughed and laughed at how fast Aqua Net could ignite. Boys loved her. Boys thought I was her brother. I dreamed of being beautiful, like her. (I still dream this.)

High school friends were on the outside of my life, but in my senior year, there was Kim and Cheryl, the Cheerleader and the Brain.  We took an independent study with Mr. Messing. One day, we spread out a blanket on the front lawn and I made them listen to Crosby, Still, and Nash even though this was our parents’ music. We listened and we talked of all the places we would go. How we were unlikely friends, but our lives would be magical.

In college, I had roommates. Amy with the wild hair, so curly it seemed like it was trying to escape from her head. And Jill, who was eight years older, a returning student. She drank her coffee with a straw because she didn’t want to have yellow teeth. Shannon wanted to be a doctor. I didn’t understand her. She ate weird things like bread so sour that it made my lips pucker. She said it was that way intentionally and I didn’t believe her. She was obsessed with the human body, constantly amazed by it. She once called me into the bathroom to see her enormous poop and how it snaked around the bowl three times. “I did that!” she cried, proud. “Isn’t that amazing?” It sorta was.

But they were on the outside because I met Paul. He was from Detroit. He would be my Ken, but a tougher Ken. A Ken raised in an all black neighborhood in the heart of Detroit, even though he was white and Italian and Catholic. He was a genius and I loved his family and he made me feel like the world was safe and comfortable as long as I was near him. I ditched hanging out with my girlfriends so we could drive around in his Iroc, windows rolled down, Guns N Roses blaring, singing at the top of our lungs, even though I thought the band sucked. I liked jazz, but you can’t sound angry while singing to jazz.

When we broke up, I moved in with three women who would transform me: Kim, the artist; Rachel, the singer and attorney; Sarah, the director. We wore red lipstick. We ate pot roast. We talked about heart break. When Paul came over asking for me to come back to him, they supported me silently but blared “I’m a Creep” through their rooms. Sarah directed a play I wrote and Rachel starred in it and Kim helped with the posters. The friendship I had with Sarah was intense and confusing. We fought over the play. I told her I was embarrassed and wanted to know how she was directing it. She thought I didn’t trust her, that I thought her work was crap. Really, I didn’t trust myself. I was embarrassed by my words. I wasn’t good enough. I dated an actor, and then I went back to Paul. Sarah dated someone out East, but still loved her high school sweetheart. I told her that you don’t marry your high school sweetheart. That’s what our mothers did. But what did I know? I didn’t know anything. In the end, she married him, proving how wrong I was. About everything.

Paul and I moved to Miami so he could go to grad school and I could be a waitress.  I met women who wanted more than life offered them. In the Beverly Hills Café, there were women who wanted to act, be a stewardess, find love. Women, like Gina, who was warm and from Georgia and had a laugh that could melt butter. I should’ve spent more time with them, but I was always with Paul. I should’ve asked them more questions. I should’ve been more present. Instead, I was always looking out the window, wondering how my boyfriend was.

When I left Paul, I taped the engagement ring to his computer. I said goodbye to him and I felt cruel. I did not get to say goodbye to his Italian mother. I missed her pragmatism. Her strength. The way she’d push the grocery cart in Kroger’s as if she was ready to run anyone down. She taught me the secret to her family’s Italian pasta sauce, and I still feel guilty. I have never cooked it. I did not get to say goodbye to Paul’s sister, Beth. We laughed together, curled up on the couch, eating Ben & Jerry’s from little Dixie cups. We watched Anne of Green Gables over and over, though we were in college. I had red hair and she had brown hair and secretly, I pretended I was Anne and she was Diana and Paul was Gilbert and we would all live happily ever together. We did not.

On my own, in Grand Rapids, Michigan, I began to do theater. Community shows where I was in Assassins, and played Squeaky Fromme. I was in Angels in America, and I played Harper and I felt like I knew her because she was just as lost as I was. I became friends with Shelly and Tracey. We were called the Triumvirate, and I didn’t know what that meant though I thought it was religious. We had big boobs. We laughed a lot. We drank more. At night, we’d meet up at the Cottage restaurant and we would pass around lemon drops. We’d flirt with men. We’d flirt with each other. We told secrets. We kept secrets. The friendships felt intense and like we would never be without each other. Then I moved to New York, and the friendships could not come with me.

There were others. Of course there were. Dionne and Ann and Vicki and Arnie and Jeannie and Shayne. Women I envied for their beauty and their strength, for their intellect and creativity. Women I could’ve learned more from, and grown up with, and cared for. But I was jealous of them And angry. And petty. They were women that I put second and third and fourth because what was important wasn’t friendships, but finding a man, getting married, having kids before my womb dried up at thirty.

I found a man. I had kids. I said goodbye to all my friends. Not consciously, but they slowly fell away, like leaves dropping. And now that I’m forty, and remarried, and my kids are past the stage of needing me for every moment, it’s not the ‘wild years’ of my twenties that I look back at with longing. It’s all the women that have fluttered into my life. How they changed me. How they influenced me. And how I was never brave enough to hold on to them, to put friendship before dating, to give them the time and energy they deserve.

I wish I could have them back. All of them. I wish that the girlfriends I have managed to keep over the years (Keeley and Rachel and Kim) I wish that we could be closer. I wish I was the kind of person that could talk on the phone for hours. I was I had a Sisterhood or something. Potlucks, maybe. Book clubs. Something. But it’s hard to manage. It’s hard to reach out. I wish I had my sister back. I wish it was summer and we could sneak out of our houses, not to meet boys again…but to hang out under the stars and the moon. To look for fireflies. To laugh at each other. To say "Does this make me look fat?" and have the other say "God yes, but who the fuck cares?"

I wonder what they’re doing now, these women I have loved and lost. All of them. I wonder, are they happy? Do they laugh? Do they ever think of me? And if they do, I hope it’s with fondness. I hope it’s with understanding. I should’ve been a better friend. I should’ve been a better person. But you do the best you can, even when the best you can isn’t good enough.

I’m Pretty Sure I’m Turning Into A WereCougar

Mrs. Robinson, the original Cougar.

A strange thing has been happening to me. Stranger than the ever expanding/drifting size of my ass, and my vain attempt to lose weight even though I’m eating better and walking 12-15 miles a week. I’m starting to be okay with my shape and…dare I say it…I’m starting to flaunt it a little.

 

Maybe it’s that I turn 40 next month, and there has to be a time when you stop hating yourself and just say “Fuck it. THIS is who I am. THIS is my body, this is my hair and skin and breasts, THIS is what I’ve got, and I’m going to stop beating myself up for not being a size 6 anymore.”

 

It slowly dawned on me that every time I eat, I feel guilty. Not just guilty, but APOLOGETIC. And ASHAMED. And that’s awful. I feel guilty every time I look in the mirror and I see size 12 me, instead of size 8 me. The truth is, I was only a size 8 when I was 16, and then again when I was in a marriage that didn’t fit me. A relationship so constricting, that I lost weight to slip away from it. I stayed thin for a while afterwards, but it wasn’t a happy-thin. It was a I’m-desperately-trying-to-get-my-life-together thin, and that ain’t sexy.

 

So. I’ve got a butt now. And a rack. And I’ve started wearing pretty frilly little outfits to bed, and just in general. I mean, how can you feel sexy when you’re wearing huge cotton undies? You can’t! You can, however, feel that farting is okay in public while wearing enormous cotton panties, because, why not. You’ve already crossed a line. (I speak from experience.)

 

I bought new clothes that fit THIS body, and not the body I think I should have. I bought some cute swingy skirts, and fitted shirts. Some jeans that hug the curves I have. New bras that lift me up a little bit further. (This may be too much detail for some of the fellas that read my blog. Sorry, brother.)

 

At any rate…I’m trying to change my mindset and it’s just possible that I may have succeeded in transforming myself into a WereCougar. I’m not going to go after college boys or anything, I mean, I’m very happily married (nod to Kealoha)…but I may randomly start sashaying or purring or something. I’m just tired of being so hard on myself and feeling bad about enjoying good food and good company and good living. It’s just stupid.

 

Bring on the pretty clothes and soft fabrics and girly, sexy underthings. I figure that at almost-forty, I deserve to celebrate.