I’ve been reading a lot lately. I just got done reading Bad Feminist by Roxanne Gay. It’s a fantastic book. Gay expertly critiques pop culture, academia, and herself with wry wit and tender vulnerability through a feminist lens that she recognizes as imperfect. About halfway through, my boyfriend asked me how it was, and I responded, “It’s the book I wish I had written.” Then he gave me a Kindle for my birthday, and the first book I downloaded was Yoga and Body Image, an extraordinary collection of essays by prominent yogis and yoga teachers on how yoga shapes and heals our relationships with our bodies. No, this one, I thought as I read it, THIS is the book I wish I had written.
Mostly, I just wish I’d written a book.
Part of me inexplicably feels like I should have written a book by now. And why not? I’m an opinionated person with tons of ideas, and “writer” is one of the defining labels of my persona. The comparison demon in my head likes to remind me that people 10 years younger than me have written New York Times bestsellers. Yoga teachers I admire churn out books on topics just outside the periphery of my awareness, as if, given enough time, I could have some up with the same idea, I just didn’t get there soon enough. I love to write and I want to write and I plan to write more. Yet here I am, barely pecking out two blog posts a month, nowhere near having written my opus. In this area, I feel like I can’t keep up.
Like most women I know, I struggle with feeling less than. Women are conditioned to compare themselves to other women, whether that comparison is fair or not. For example, I’m expected to compare myself to tan, blond, 6 foot tall Giselle Bundchen and buy the products she endorses in an effort to look more like her. At 5 foot 6 with millennia of pasty Irish ancestry at my back and a body that looks soft even at its most fit, a Giselle I will never be. But damned if there aren’t an army of marketing execs pushing me to think I should try anyway. A lot of people make a lot of money making women feel “less than.”
As options for women have expanded–thrillingly–our less thans have become more complex. In the 80s, my generation’s mothers were sold the idea that they could “have it all”– “all,” of course, being a career and a family and a great body and perfect, bouncy hair. In passing this notion down to us, the message morphed from can have it all to should have it all. We should work our asses off to have it all and–thanks, Instagram–make sure we look great doing it and broadcast our multi-layered success for all the world to see.
A couple of months ago, I was sitting at my favorite local bar with a female friend of my boyfriend who was in town from Atlanta. To me, she’s the epitome of cool. She’s a full-time filmmaker with an impressive filmography and constant presence on the film festival circuit. She’s currently writing, directing, and producing a 1980s punk rock vintage flick with a mostly female cast. She was in town to screen her latest award-winning, critically acclaimed documentary. She has a cute boyfriend, adorable cats, and an awesome and loving family. She can pull off a plaid shirt better than I ever will. She’s always been immensely nice to me, but I’ve had a hard time getting over the hump of cool-girl intimidation to genuinely connect with her.
“You’re, like, my hero,” she said suddenly.
“I just have so much respect for people who focus their lives on health and wellness. You live a healthy lifestyle and share it with other people and help them. I just think that’s amazing. I wish I could be more like that.”
I was floored. Here I was, feeling like the nerdy girl at the cool-kid table and this gorgeous, successful woman with the coolest job anyone could imagine was saying she wanted to be more like me. It was an eye-opening moment. She was comparing herself to things I take for granted about my life and–perhaps, although I don’t want to make assumptions about her experience–feeling less than. Here we were, two women successful in our fields, admiring each other from across the table and feeling like we had to be less in each other’s presence.
Here, of course, is the inevitable question: Why? Why must we do this to ourselves and each other? Why must her inherent coolness morph into a reflection of my perceived–perhaps fabricated–insufficiency?
In writing this, I’ve just re-read my description of my boyfriend’s friend, this inspiring woman for whom I have so much admiration. And something struck me. Is it possible that my description of her isn’t so different from how someone might describe me?
full-time filmmaker with an impressive filmography and constant presence on the film festival circuit yoga teacher with two teacher trainings and a significant presence in the Southeast. She’s currently writing, directing, and producing a 1980s punk rock vintage flick with a mostly female cast leading her third sold-out teacher training and already getting inquiries about next year’s program. She has a cute boyfriend (check), adorable cats (check), and an awesome and loving family (check, and friends). She can pull off a plaid shirt better than I ever will yoga pants pretty well.
Not so bad, right?
There’s an old axiom in counseling circles that it’s unfair to compare your insides to someone else’s outsides. You are privy to your own internal workings, all the negative thoughts, insecurities, and dark moments. No one has access to anyone else’s inner experience, so it’s easy to assume we’re the only weirdos feeling this way. Add to that the glossed-over images on social media, and we’re left with the notion that everyone’s lives are totally perfect and happy and filled with nothing but delicious brunches and cute puppies.
The title of Roxanne Gay’s Bad Feminist comes from two essays in which she bemoans her imperfect dedication to the cause because of things like her love of the color pink and gendered associations with certain household chores. (I don’t like killing bugs or taking out the trash, either, sister.) After a number of meditations on how it’s pretty much impossible to be a good woman of any kind, given the societal restraints placed on women, she ends her volume with the thought, “I’d rather be a bad feminist than no feminist at all.” She’d rather be in the fight, to at least try, than to forfeit and not strive to create a better world of herself and all women.
Gay rejects the notion of being a perfect feminist, embracing the label of “bad,” which is really just shorthand for imperfect and human. I’d rather be a bad writer–eking out a few minutes a month to sketch out some mediocre but heartfelt blog posts–than no writer at all. And perhaps Gay beat me to one witty and moving book about feminism, but I trust that there’s another one out there, waiting for me to write it. And I trust that when I do, my insecurities will be waiting for me on the other side of that release party. “Sure, you wrote a book, but it wasn’t the best book. And you aren’t as successful as Liz Gilbert. And that girl on Instagram still has a better handstand than you. And…”
And so on. And as I wrestle my insecurity demons, perhaps other women around me will look to my success as an opportunity to feel less than. I hope they won’t, but I know enough about how people work to know someone somewhere probably will. Whoever she is, I hope she realizes that–while she envies me, or a social media star, or whoever else makes her feel less than this week–someone somewhere is admiring how her ass looks in those jeans, or how cute her kids are, or how she manages time for all that volunteer work she does. We’re all looking at each other wishing so hard we had the each other’s gifts that we forget to be grateful for our own.
My Kindle and I have gotten pretty tight, and I just downloaded Kathryn Budig’s new book, Aim True. Kathryn is an amazing international yoga teacher and one of my body image and yoga girl-crushes, so I’m already prepared to wish I had written her book, too. But it’s okay. The more I peck out my infrequent blog posts, the closer I get to a book of my own. And when the time comes, I’ll be sure to send Roxanne Gay, Kathryn Budig, and all the other women I’ve compared myself to over the years a free copy, with a note that says, “Thanks being an inspiration, sister.”