The Art of Not Giving a F***k
My first daughter, Luna, has a hang-up about people's perception of her. She worries what her friends will think of her new shoes, she frets that if she cuts her hair people will think she looks boyish, she retreats bashfully if anyone unfamiliar addresses her. The fact that she's only 5 and already concerned with society-at-large's feelings towards is both poignant and maddening, and I struggle sometimes to deal with it compassionately when what I want to do is shake her dramatically by the shoulders and thunder, "GIRL YOU ARE A PERFECT JEWEL YOU ARE TRIPPING SO HARD RIGHT NOW."
The thing that kills me most is that she is such a different person with loved ones than she is to the outside world. In her natural state she is goofy and hysterical and vibrant, quick to break into song & dance or tell a joke. She rattles off oddball thoughts with the kind of rapid-fire energy you would associate with Jim Carrey after twenty Red Bulls. But as soon as she comes around anyone outside of her small, trusted inner circle, she's mute with self-consciousness. I observed her once when a couple of friendly older girls approached her to ask if she wanted to buy some cookies they were selling. Luna was so overcome in her timidity that she turned her head and went rigid. After a few gentle attempts at getting a response to no avail, the girls smiled kindly at me and moved on, and I sat there with my heart shattering.
I thought at first it was a phase, something all children go through like stranger danger or not wanting to brush their teeth, but I've come to realize that it's particular to her personality. It's simply in her nature to become crippled with anxiety over the impression she makes. With that came another realization - that I need to tread carefully. I never want to make her feel ashamed for being insecure, or pressured to act in a way that makes her uncomfortable. I need to find a way to make her feel both supported for being exactly who she is and encouraged to develop her voice, both literal and figurative.
So I try my best to be patient when she takes 800 years carefully choosing her outfits and I never ask her to change, even when she looks insane. I don't chastise her for not saying "hello" or making eye contact, and I curb my own inclination to apologetically explain that she's just shy. I ask for her opinion often. I tell her that real friends love you exactly as you are, that she should just concentrate on being a good person, that people's opinions of her are their business, not hers.
I know that, sadly, she has a long road ahead of her of being scrutinized and compared and judged, because it's just something all women have to deal with. And the truth is I didn't feel comfortable in my own skin until far too recently, when I decided life is too fucking short to waste time trying to please everyone. I just hope Luna can get there sooner than I did, because the weight of perceived expectations is a heavy burden to bear. And I hope she can take to heart my favorite quote by spirited ol' sassy-pants Eleanor Roosevelt: No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.