I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my level of satisfaction with my life. Not happiness or enjoyment, or even fulfillment. Satisfaction. I spend a lot of time feeling inadequate, and that leaves me unsatisfied.
A couple of weeks ago, I committed to spend less of my time on Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest. It was right after my husband and I started practicing a new language again, and I realized that all the time I spent on the train, I could be enriching my own life rather than getting jealous of what other peoples’ lives appeared to be. Key word: Appeared. Yeah, this is going somewhere, isn’t it?
A week into my One-Facebook-Check-Per-Day rule, I realized I was feeling something new; it was this weird mix of contentment and motivation. I’m sad to say it, but I don’t know if I’ve ever felt that way in my adult life.
Then I started to reflect, beginning with who I was and how I felt about myself growing up as a pretty average American girl.
When I was a kid, my family loved Disney movies. We weren’t crazy Disney people who took 2-week vacations to Florida and glued mouse ears to our heads or anything, but we had all of my favorite stories in those huge plastic Disney Classics VHS cases, and I knew most of them by heart.
Aladdin was, by far, my favorite movie. I loved Jasmine. I loved her puffy green pants, her long, thick, wavy black hair, and how gracefully she moved in those gold slippers. She was sassy and strong, and had a clever, handsome boyfriend. When I was about 8 years old, I even got to be her on stage at my dad’s college variety show when he and I sang A Whole New World together. My mom made me an awesome costume, complete with the puffy pants, and I got the rare chance to be one of my idols on a stage in front of 2,000 people.
Ok, so we took some liberties with the story, and acting is clearly not my thing, but I sure loved to sing. I loved my costume, I loved being on stage with my dad, and I loved pretending to be Jasmine.
There were things about Jasmine I couldn’t emulate, though. I walk funny, so I wasn’t (and never will be) as graceful as she was. I have plain, straight brown hair and pale skin, not her black hair and tan skin. And as for the pants, well, I had those for awhile, but my poor body image had me wearing almost exclusively baggy jeans, hooded sweatshirts, athletic shorts, and big t-shirts by my 12th birthday.
Jasmine’s a pretty classic example of a girls’ childhood hero, right? She’s the kind that gets lots of negative attention for setting impossible standards for girls, causing low self esteem, poor body images, and mixed up priorities.
So, what’s the adult equivalent of the Disney Princess? The sexy celebrity? The runway model?
Not for me.
For me, and probably most of the women I know that are in their 20s, it’s the Hipster DIY-er with 15 different vintage cameras and a blog to hide behind. Pinterest and Instagram have been amazing vehicles for blog promotion, and with a decent aesthetic sense and a few image filters, pretty much anyone can make his or her life look like the modern day Disney Princess; an existence filled with vacations to exotic places (oh, just kidding – it’s only Arizona), classy parties (wait a minute – that’s your grandma’s basement), and nights out on the town (hold on – that beer was a $3 happy hour special at the only bar in your rural town).
The problem isn’t that the vacation was to Arizona, the party was in the basement, or that the bar was in your country neighborhood; all of those can be wonderful, fun, enriching experiences. The problem is that they’re not being represented as they exist in real life, and that leaves those of us that weren’t there wondering why our vacations aren’t as beautiful, our parties aren’t as fun, and our beers aren’t as fancy or delicious. In many of the cases when the images are actually what they appear to be, they cost an entire year’s salary to have, and it’s rare to see someone blog a crazy experience and talk about what they sacrificed in order to have it. You know, like a normal person.
It donned on me the other day that in my generational and socioeconomic cross section, I feel guilty going to Target to buy a Swiffer rather than staying home and brushing Bright, then making a duster out of her hair. By the way, after that, I should pick berries and can some jam with 7 of my closest friends, who also happen to be flawless and beautiful, but not before sewing my own apron and decorating my house with handmade garland and furniture that my husband built. For our post-dinner entertainment, we’ll strap our babies to our backs and head to the Dumbo Gets Mad (yes, that’s really music) show at the Farmer’s Market. That’s ridiculous, right? Please, tell me it’s ridiculous.
This, really, is just a bizarre mutation of Keeping Up With The Joneses and their cookie cutter house, speedboat, and expensive car, but now we’re keeping up with Sam and Max Stuart and their Levis-and-Toms-wearing babies Matilda and Beckett, who have mason jars instead of bottles and wooden narwhals instead of Super Soakers.
Here’s the thing: there’s nothing inherently wrong with spending your afternoon making a Tiny Terrarium in a Lightbulb. And while the Joneses are drinking fruity cocktails at the country club and the Stuarts are drinking PBR at the co-op campfire, it’s perfectly okay for me to sit on my back patio with a Stella (or something equally mainstream) and just enjoy what I have, instead of worrying about how it compares to what they have. I’m finding, slowly, that I don’t need what I think they have – mostly because I’m not them – but partly because they probably don’t actually have what I think they do.
Friends, take a second and remember with me that we are different and equal, and that’s what makes our lives worthwhile. From little girls who want to be Jasmine and Ariel and boys who want to be The Hulk and Wolverine to grown-ups who want to be cultured, sophisticated, beautiful, and unique, we’re all looking for the same things: acceptance, belonging, and joy. In my experience, these things are more easily had when I am who I am; not who you are, and the same goes for you.
So, be yourself with me, and do it confidently. You’re the only one who can.
“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and will be lost.” -Martha Graham