The Red Dress
It was by an awesome blogger called The Bloggess, and it featured the gorgeous picture you see at left. Well, first of all, anyone who knows me knows that I LOVE red. LOVE! But the other thing that struck me about the photo was how REAL the model seemed.
How luminous and stunning and confident. She is owning that dress, girlfriends!
So I read on. And this post really moved me. It’s all about how we deny ourselves the things that we want. Not just material possessions. But impracticality, adventure, passion, the right to do and say the things that we want and need.
It really struck a chord with me.
*By the way, I interrupt this regularly scheduled blog post to tell the teenagers and young women reading NOT to click away. This isn’t just the old people talking. This is for and about YOU, I promise*
For me, it’s rarely about STUFF. I’m not a stuff person. And lately I realize it’s more about the things I DON’T want to feel and do. Because even though I’m an inherently self-conscious person, I’ve never stopped myself from doing or going after the things I want.
But the things I DON’T want, well, that’s trickier and just as important. I don’t want to keep company I don’t enjoy. I don’t want to travel to places I’m not interested in seeing or, often, places I’ve already been. I don’t want to stay friends with people who are bad for me. I don’t want to have big dinners on Sunday just because everyone else does or dust my house within an inch of its life. I don’t want to spend my life staring at the TV for eight hours every night.
Yet I still find it hard to say, “No.” Except with the TV. I did that in 2006 and am SO glad I did.
I pride myself on being nice. On being approachable. I’ll bend over backwards to help anyone, anytime, anywhere. And I’m not saying I want to lose that. I’m just saying the more I do things that I don’t want to do (or don’t allow myself to do the things I want to do), the more I feel like I lose of myself. And it’s a slippery slope. Pretty soon, I’m so busy running around doing things other people want me to do that I can’t even remember what *I* want to do, something that every now and then starts to feel like forgetting who I AM.
A lot of this comes with the territory. As parents, especially, we HAVE to do things every day for years and years that we don’t really want to do. And women are particularly disposed to the horrifyingly strident internal guilt trip led by a chorus of voices telling us that we “should” do this or that. I do wonder if it goes back to our youth. As enlightened as most parents are – and were even when I was growing up at the height of feminism in the 1970’s and 1980’s – I wonder if we still send subtle cues to our girls. That it’s important to be nice. That they SHOULD attend a party they don’t want to attend so as not to offend a friend. That they SHOULD loan someone a dress or outfit because it would be rude to say, “No.”
I don’t know. I simply know that it’s only been in the last couple of years that I’ve found the courage to say, “No,” and that I am much, much happier for it. I’m not going to lie. I still get the guilt trip now and then. I still feel badly for not being more social. For withdrawing into my internal world for long stretches of time. For forgetting the birthdays of far-flung relatives. For not wanting to make the trip back to my home state instead of going someplace entirely new.
But I’m trying to teach myself that it’s okay to be me. Because the alternative is telling yourself that it’s NOT okay to be you, and where does that leave us? With a lifetime spent trying to be someone we’re not?
So here’s the deal, guys; it’s okay to say, “No.”
More than that, it’s necessary for your mental health and well-being to say it. Not just once in a blue moon, but WHENEVER YOU FEEL THE NEED. And here the key.
Don’t feel badly about it. That’s like eating ice cream and then kicking yourself for it!
What’s the point?! If you don’t enjoy it, it’s wasted.
Buy the freaking red dress! Buy the shoes to match! Wear it no matter what your size or age. Wear it with Doc Martens if you want. Get a tattoo! Sing so loud in the car – with gestures – that the people driving next to you laugh. Listen to foreign language tapes and then speak bad French to practice. Watch South Park and allow yourself to laugh – even if (when!) it’s politically incorrect or inappropriate. Whatever! Just do it ALL.
And for the teenagers and young women out there, know this; you are not here to look pretty for someone else. You are not here to be pleasing. You are here to find your own way – your own path. Along the way you may WANT to look pretty for yourself. You may WANT to be pleasing for yourself. You may WANT to attend parties to make someone you love happy. You may WANT to loan a friend a dress just to see the smile light up her face. And those things are okay. Just remember to be who you are, to do the things YOU want to do, and then, to say, “No” when you need to.
Because that is your metaphorical red dress.
As for me, I already told you the things I don’t want. They’re probably not that difficult to understand, and the things I want aren’t that complicated, either. I want to see everything, everywhere. I want to learn as many new languages as I can. I want to read as many books on as many different subjects as I can. I want to listen to music so loud it’s probably damaging my eardrums (oh, right! I already do that). I want to talk with people from all walks of life – to understand the human experience that is uniquely theirs. I want to spend long stretches alone thinking about everything and nothing without apology to anyone else. I want to eat ice cream for dinner. I want to see my children grow into the amazing adults I know they will be.
I’m going to do it all, time allowing. And so should you.