Archive for the ‘Choices’ Category

I Felt So Purdy

Monday, June 15th, 2009

The Beautiful Like Me Project has another question to ponder today. WickedStepMom wants to know when I felt most beautiful so far on my journey in life. The true answer plays right to the point of this project. I wish I felt the most beautiful when I was the natural me. Not so though. I know for a fact the time I felt the most beautiful was when I was heavily costumed as a young adult. It could have been a costume for a show I was in or a costume for work. Layers of fancy clothes, makeup and fake tan decorating my too thin body made me feel perfect. Add to the mix permed curls and gold streaks to transform my normal bone straight and unremarkable brown hair and I was smoking! I clearly remember several moments in my life when I received some oohs and ahhhhs that gave me a great sense of satisfaction and self-worth. I felt powerful. Why wouldn’t I? Beauty and power often go hand in hand. At least, this seems to be true when speaking of material beauty.

Looking back at old pictures of myself I have a hard time relating to the girl who was me. The 37 year old sees so many layers that didn’t have to be there. The face looks proud and confident. I imagine the confidence was genuine, but can you really call it that when it was only present after countless hours of primping and prepping?

I spent years keeping up the rituals of makeup, elaborate hairstyles, tans and fashionable clothing. The rituals came to an abrupt end with my first pregnancy. I was one of those women you hear about who spends the entire nine months puking her brains out. I was too sick to care about rituals. Getting through the day took all my effort. The same thing happened with my second pregnancy. Those were a combined 18 months of Lisa in her most natural form. By the time I was done with pregnancies and had more energy to invest in my appearance, and some investment was definitely needed because I know for a fact I looked like hell, I couldn’t bring myself to don all the makeup and fancy clothes. I found myself satisfied, even if not impressed, by the less glam Lisa. Eyeliner and mascara made me feel ridiculous. The thought of adding a tan was insane. Why get people used to seeing me all bronzed up again? Now I could be my chalky white self without people asking me if I was feeling okay. Life was just easier without all of the chaos of beauty. Clean skin, a touch of lipstick, a decent hair cut, clothes that weren’t too mommyish and a healthy dose of color to hide my gray was all I needed to feel good about myself.

You’d think that what I just shared would bring me to a point where I could say I felt beautiful now. I don’t. Not really. Not in terms of how we’ve been groomed to assign beauty. It’s true I feel satisfied, however. There are times when I wonder if feeling satisfied might be more valuable than feeling beautiful. It’s all encompassing acceptance, after all. Satisfaction seems more durable and better able to stand the test of time until society gets its act together and stops using the idea of beauty as a means to marginalize, harm, profit and promote.

Who Done It? The Beautiful Like Me Project

Monday, June 1st, 2009

It’s Monday and another Beautiful Like Me question is waiting to be answered. WickedStepMom wants to know, “What person or people are the most influential about how you feel about yourself? Who influences you the most to feel beautiful?”

In simple terms, I have no earthly idea. I think that’s what makes it hard to get my head in the right place when it comes to my own self-image. I’m not all that clear who it is I am trying to appeal to or what message is resonating at the moment. Was it something I heard/read recently or events and words from long ago? That’s the big mystery. So much of how we feel about ourselves in the present has been shaped through the course of time and it is difficult to know what is inspiring my take on myself.

With the “Beautiful Like Me” project I’ve been forcing myself to take a closer look at who and what have shaped me so I can be a better parent to my kids. It bothers me that I don’t have a solid answer for this question. I know as an adult the primary person most responsible for how beautiful I feel is me. It’s my mental strength and open-mindedness that reigns supreme. Who gave that to me though? I’m not sure that it came from my family. My husband contributed, although he also put his foot in his mouth enough to negate the positive. My friends have also given me a mix of good and bad, so it’s just hard to know. WickedStepMom, I might have to think on this some more.

I’m not sure if it’s directly relevant to today’s question, but I was thinking about something this morning I’d like to share real quick. With a little bit of luck I can make it relevant. We shall see.

Those of us participating in this project haven’t been too kind towards the fashion and entertainment industry. We’ve been quick to point out how the messages coming from magazines, television and such have made it hard for us to feel good about our natural selves. Something hit me this morning though. I realized something that shocked me, quite frankly. The fashion industry as a whole has put a lot of effort into making the unique beautiful. It celebrates the odd. In the past I’ve suggested the industry makes us feel if we are different than what is being sold as the ideal we are lacking. That may have been off the mark and rash. Ever seen pictures from a runway show? Women proudly walk the catwalks with clothes, hair and makeup that most of us would be laughed at and ridiculed for if we attempted it in our normal lives. It’s easy to focus on the Gisele’s of the industry, but we shouldn’t forget the others whose confidence with nonconformity is truly amazing. If beauty can be found in and felt by women who are altered to the point of being freakish, what is the obstacle for the rest of us? If a woman with chocolate brown triangles painted above her eyes, a gold snake slithering down her cheek and what looks to be a green bed sheet dress draped around her can pull off beautiful, why the heck can’t I? Maybe if we followed the fashion industry’s lead as a whole, and not just the parts about body fat and wrinkles, we’d be able to see and feel the beauty in ourselves and others more easily. Beauty really is whatever we want it to be. It’s a state of mind.

Today’s topic leaves me feeling I have some work to do. For one, I need to take a closer look at what is motivating my mindset and who is contributing to my positive self-image. Those people are the ones I want to surround myself with the most. Secondly, I need a bit of an attitude adjustment. I didn’t expect the tangent about the fashion industry. It came to me as I was thinking through today’s question. I’m realizing that I am guilty of proclaiming the uniqueness being sold as ugly. I’ve made no effort to appreciate. I’ve judged and I’ve criticized. How is that any different than what we’ve been challenging others and ourselves to avoid doing?

Interesting

Wednesday, May 27th, 2009

I was reading through the May 2009 edition of Time Magazine when a comment by Meg Ryan jumped off the pages and pointed out something spectacularly important. That’s right, Meg Ryan the actress. She wrote a short blurb on Tom Hanks for the magazine’s “The Time 100: The World’s Most Influential People.” Tom is one of the esteemed 100. In any event, Meg was rambling, almost aimlessly, about how great Tom is and how much fun he can be. The article didn’t offer much support to what made Tom so influential until she hit the home run with one quick observation. “He’s interesting because he is interested.” She went on to say he has a “wondrous capacity to wonder.”

Until reading those words I honestly hadn’t considered before how many of the people I would call influential in my life had the quality of being interested. Interested not just in me, but in everything around them. They reached beyond themselves and took in any and all information their surroundings had to offer. Questions were asked for answers, not for conversation’s sake. Observations were made for knowledge and not for ego. I suppose when you think of what it takes to be influential, being able to understand or relate to those we share our environment would play a heavy role.

Now my mind is flipping through the people I’ve encountered in my life who clearly wanted the power of influence, but who just couldn’t quite get there. Many did seem to be missing the inclination to take a genuine interest in anyone or anything other than themselves. Now isn’t that something to think about? And all because of Meg Ryan.

The Present Game – Beautiful Like Me Project

Monday, May 18th, 2009

Today’s question for the Beautiful Like Me project is “what is the best way to build self-esteem.”

Honestly, I think self-esteem isn’t something to be built, but something to be preserved. We come ready made with a strong sense of self. I’m sure of it. My kids are young, 3 and 1 1/2. Both of them love every inch of themselves. Coincidentally, they love every inch of others too. They are able to do what most adults can’t, love and appreciate who they are without needing to diminish what others have. My daughter can tell another girl her hair is pretty without even thinking about her own hair. She can go to another kid’s house or play with another kid’s toys without any thought to how what that kid has compares to what she has. Her eyes and mind digest the world around her with no need to pick it apart and stomp on it or on herself.

It won’t last, I know. Society will make daily attempts to tell my kids how flawed they are, mostly in the hopes they will see the wisdom in opening their wallets and buying their way to a new improved human form. Adults will model for them the tried and true method of making oneself feel better by judging what others have as lacking or less than ideal. The best I can do, in the immediate sense, is make darn sure I’m not one of those adults.

Back to the question for the day, it is important to ask how to build self-esteem since so many of us have had our original infrastructure dismantled. So where do we find the tools and equipment for the rebuild? We could scout out building materials and spend a fortune on supplies and contractors. The handy thing is, in many cases, the boards, bricks and nails we were equipped with originally are still there. They just have to be rediscovered. Time needs to be taken to notice what is great about us again, to celebrate what is fabulous.

Just as my daughter has a good handle on self-esteem, she has also mastered the rediscovery process. She isn’t doing it with her own qualities yet, but with what she has around her. Perhaps we could follow her lead.

She loves to play the ‘present game’. I saved a dark blue velvet box from a gift a few years back. Olivia adores the thing. She frequently stuffs various toys and objects in the box and asks me to open my present. I ooh and ah over the contents. Then it is my turn to find something to hide inside so she has a chance to open a present. She’s always delighted. No matter how many times she’s seen or played with whatever she finds, opening the box and seeing it there is exciting.

Not long ago Olivia had a birthday and was able to open real presents. Interestingly enough, her reaction wasn’t all that different from when she’d been opening a velvet box jammed full of things she already had. Maybe at her tender age Olivia has managed to figure out the best gifts we have are already in our possession. What a blessing if she can find pleasure with what she has versus always wanting more. How thoughtful to take the time to reopen the same old stuff and allow the opportunity to take another look at what makes them so great. It’s so easy to become indifferent over time to the old and crave the new and improved. Perhaps we wouldn’t need so much new in our life if we followed Olivia’s lead and wrapped up the gifts we already have so we can rip them open and rediscover them again. Maybe we could do this with more than material objects. Maybe we could do this with all of the special qualities that make up us and our kids. Maybe we could dedicate time every day to unwrapping the forgotten and cheering with delight. Maybe we could help everyone to realize all that we have and are truly is a gift and that the best part of gifts isn’t the bows or paper that decorates the box, but what lies underneath waiting to be discovered. I know when my daughter is opening presents, the joy and celebration is an impermeable barrier to anything negative. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could be so focused on the excitement of our own gifts the messages fall on deaf ears.

Thanks for reading, if you are interested in reading more blogs covering the Beautiful Like Me project, follow the links built into this post to Wicked Step Mom’s site. She is also on my blog roll. The list of participants grows each time. If you’d like to join in the cause, we’d love to have your voice.

The Questions Get Harder

Monday, May 4th, 2009

If you’ve been following my blog recently you know I’ve been participating in “Beautiful Like Me.” It’s a project started by a fellow blogger, Wicked Stepmom, that challenges those participating to dissect different factors that contribute to poor self-esteem in kids. You can read more about the project here. My first two contributions to this project were

and

Both topics were tough and took a while to work through. Today’s topic is no exception. In fact, I think the questions seem to get harder as we go along. Not because I have no ideas of what to write. To the contrary, my mind seems to swim with thoughts and potential responses. The challenge is in making it count. The more I contribute to this project, the more it matters to me to get it right. Its importance and the revelations participants have the potential to collectively make are on the forefront of my mind.

Today’s topic: What features/qualities would we like today’s children to see as beautiful?

My knee jerk response to this question is to say I would be happy if kids saw humanity as beautiful. Sounds simple, but we may have a problem. That would require kids being consistently aware of the humanity in us all. It’s not that they are incapable, but I suspect popular culture is grooming them to notice the material instead the person. Kids are saturated with gadgets, accessories, cosmetics and celebrity culture. How others measure up in the above seems to determine how they are viewed on the surface. The result is a generation destined to follow, compelled to copy and motivated to spend their way to self-appreciation.

Now, does this mean kids view their Razor phones and Paris Hilton sunglasses as beautiful? I’d like to think not. Perhaps it’s more beauty not being a focus. They talk about what is cool, hot, awesome and pretty. Beauty doesn’t seem to come up all that often. Our kids are moving a mile a minute. Judgments are made in haste with eyes trained to notice decorations.

The failure to see the humanity in each other, and arguably in ourselves, could very well be the catalyst for the growing discontent many seem to feel. The heart knows there is more to existence than all of this superficial garbage. It nags at the brain by churning an inner desire to be ourselves in all of our unique glory. The brain wants to believe, but it has to overcome the growing fear what is unique and real won’t be acceptable. It has reason to doubt as it has been bombarded by messages of what is falsely important and ideal.

If it were up to me, I’d like kids to find diversity, courage, strength, compassion, love and nature beautiful. I’d like them to fall hopelessly in love with the rare individuals amongst us who are able to show their raw emotions in times when others may expect them to present a stiff upper lip. There is beauty in what is genuine. There is beauty in what is real. When I think of a beautiful person, I’m more inclined to think of those who have touched me in some deep and compelling way. Their actions gave me pause and helped me to see a greater meaning in life. Trinkets, decorations, pomp and bravado just don’t take me there. Usually what touched me was just part of that person being them. It’s not like they were doing something for my benefit. By some blessing from above, I was allowed to witness a moment, long or short, of humanity at its best.

What’s My Rain

Monday, April 27th, 2009

If I had any doubts Spring had arrived when I went to bed last night, they were gone when the morning greeted me. All of the rain from the weekend awakened my dormant surroundings. Buds have burst open, speckling brown tree branches with a lively green. Grass is no longer comatose and has started to whisper “mow me.”

The drastic change that can come from a single day amazes me. It makes me wonder if people could change their circumstances that quickly given the right conditions. What’s each person’s rain? What’s each person’s catalyst for transformation? What can shake those of us who are dormant into action?

I’m going to seek out my rain and I hope others do the same. With all of the challenges in our lives right now, we need all need to find that rain and stand in it until we are drenched. No more hiding under umbrellas or ducking for cover indoors.

What Are You?

Sunday, April 26th, 2009

What are you when you believe in God, or at least want to, but find most of organized religion to be riddled with man made propaganda designed to justify unkind or unequal treatment of others? My heart, soul and mind is so torn. Everyday I find myself more disconnected from religion. It makes me uncomfortable because it feels like I’m also admitting a disconnection from God or the idea of God. I can’t be alone in this? I can’t be the only one who looks at the Church and feels it doesn’t fit with a reasoning and loving God.

When you consider the power held by mankind to use the fear of eternal damnation to sway public opinion, it’s hardly improbable humans, through the course of time, have succumbed to temptation and made their word, God’s Word. I can’t imagine the Big Guy being pleased.

Mortal contamination is the one thing that makes sense to me. It would be the logical explanation for why God, who has got to be the ultimate big picture guy, would push such small minded ideology.

If God would be so kind as to knock out a new set of stone tablets and clear up some modern day confusions, I’d be very appreciative. Probably the reason He hasn’t done it is He knows we’d brand anyone claiming to have found a message from God a lunatic. Guess it’s a good thing all of the Biblical stuff went down in a time when people were more open minded.

Imitation Is The Best Form Of Flattery, But…

Monday, April 20th, 2009

A fellow blogger kicked off an interesting project a few weeks ago. WickedStepMom challenged several in her blogging community to write on assigned topics addressing self-esteem issues in kids. The project is called “Beautiful Like Me” and you can read more about it here. My blog entry “Perfect 10” was my first contribution to her effort. Today’s focus is on what types of things children and teens feel the most pressure to imitate and why.

Most of us have heard imitation is the best form of flattery. It’s what we are told when our feathers are ruffled over someone copying what we feel to be uniquely ours. Though the imitation flatters the one being copied, what does it say about the one doing the imitating? It’s a tricky thing to answer when we are talking about kids. Is the imitation rooted in a lack of understanding their own identity at that point? Is it a way to have fun and explore paths taken by others? Are underlying insecurities coupled with a desperate need to fit in the motivation for imitation? At times I imagine it is a combination of all the above.

When I think back on my childhood, I don’t recall too many incidents where going along with what others were doing was a result of stress or peer pressure. I’ve always acted about 10 years older than my true age. Perhaps that is why it was somehow easy for me to say no thanks to the things others were doing that didn’t appeal to me or seemed to be a poor choice. Yes, I wanted to be wearing some of the same clothes as others. Yes, my vocabulary grew to include words like snap, crunch and totally awesome. Where it mattered, I was able to stay true to the real me. The biggies like drinking alcohol, sneaking out of my parents’ house, lying to my parents, blowing off schoolwork or sleeping around weren’t on the agenda and no amount of eye rolls or verbal jabs were going to change my mind. If others considered me a nerd or a dork, I was confident enough in my decisions not to care. My friends somehow knew where I stood on things like that and didn’t bother to harass me. I was a goody-goody rule follower. Since that had been the case from the beginning, it was simply who my friends knew me to be. No questions asked. No judgments made. In fact, I might go so far as to say it endeared them to me. I was just so “Lisa.”

Looking at my kids, I wonder if they will have the same inner strength to break away from the pack when necessary. Is it genetic or something molded over time? I haven’t a clue. I’m not sure what allowed me to be a kid comfortable in her own shoes. I’d like to think my kids will follow my path and grow to be confident individuals who choose imitation when it suits them and embrace their uniqueness at will. There is no way to see the future, however. Already I see my three year old playing the copycat game. A playmate laughs and she laughs. He runs while barking like a dog and she runs while barking like a dog. It’s fun for her to do and fun for me to watch.

Fast forward 10 years and it will likely be less amusing. I don’t have to have a teenager to notice how much pressure is in their lives when it comes to things like sex, alcohol, smoking and materialism. Adults and peers contribute to the ever growing message you aren’t interesting if you aren’t crossing lines. Your sexuality opens doors. Trinkets and gadgets symbolize how loved you are by your parents. Drinking and smoking shows the world you aren’t a child anymore. To an extent, this has been the message for ages. The message is delivered with greater frequency and power in the age of the internet and cable television. Perhaps what gave me an edge as a kid was the very real fact the time others had to influence me was limited. There were only 4 television stations. Time with friends was confined mostly to school hours. There was simply more time in my day to allow the real me to emerge without having the distractions of what others were doing and saying.

Could it really be that simple? Could it be our kids are imitating others so much because they don’t have enough time to themselves without the influences of the outside world? Are they afforded enough time to find out who they are without being submerged in an ocean of messages, influences and pressures? It’s worth considering. When I’m paying attention, I can tell at the end of the day how my daughter’s time was spent. If she spent most of her time with me, she is a walking, talking, mini-Lisa. If Nickelodeon ruled the roost, she’s the live version of Dora or one of the Backyardigans. The days she is more what I would call “Olivia” are the days when she’s enjoyed creative and quiet playtime on her own terms. Perhaps the commitment I need to make as a parent is to do what I can to make sure a healthy amount of time is carved out of my daughter’s schedule, no matter what her age, that is dedicated to her being her without magazines, television, schoolmates or the internet around. If I can give her a real chance at knowing who she is, she may find it easier to stay true to herself.

In The Box Mindset

Sunday, April 19th, 2009

When I was a manager in Corporate America I frequently told my staff to ‘think out of the box.’ That was where ingenuity could be found. That was where solutions never before imagined would develop. Boy was I wrong. I know that now that I have kids. Nothing turns on my kids’ imaginations more than sitting in empty cardboard boxes while letting their minds take them on incredible adventures. There are no limits to their creativity. In their boxes they are capable of anything. They have superhuman powers and an endless supply of resources to save the day. If I ever return to Corporate America I’m going to have to try the ‘in the box’ approach and see where my staff takes it. If nothing comes from it, it will at least provide an entertaining moment.

Cry Me A River

Wednesday, March 4th, 2009

As clear as our current financial fiasco has become, people still aren’t willing or able to connect the dots on what leads to these types of catastrophes. I’ve read a few articles in recent history about credit card companies lowering credit lines without any warning or cause. Supposedly it’s unfair and an outrage to take someone’s $15,000 credit limit down to $7,000 when they haven’t missed a payment. Of course, there was no outrage when the individual’s line of credit swelled beyond their means without warning and for no justifiable reason. No, we are only to be upset when the reverse happens. In my nearly 20 years as a credit card holder, I’ve consistently had credit available to me at amounts well beyond my repayment capabilities. As a poor college student I managed to ‘earn’ up to $8,000. Right after graduation, when I was struggling to make ends meet in the real world, my credit limit was around $11,000. Fast forward to now, as a stay-at-home mom with no reportable income, my credit line is $20,000! If I didn’t have the good sense not to spend what I don’t have, I’d probably have to consider selling a kidney or something.

Get with it people! Credit card debt is the next bubble waiting to burst and rain its debris all over our already soggy economy. Credit card companies have surely witnessed the demise of mortgage companies that extended credit beyond realistic means. Not acting and reducing their risk before more credit that can’t be repaid is gobbled up makes sense.

The average credit card debt of American citizens is already staggering and capable of being problematic. With so many Americans struggling right now, it stands to reason many will be tempted to use their credit cards as a social assistance program. Available credit will be used and if it needs to be written off in bankruptcy, so be it. I’ve actually lost sleep over the past few days processing this inevitability in my mind.

There isn’t much I can say about credit card companies that is positive. I despise them. I am relieved to see them taking some action to reduce the pending disaster.