I'm way better than I used to be -- both cancer and having a baby will do that to a person -- but the truth is that sometimes my “I Don’t Give A F*ck” doesn't work so well.
For as long as I can remember, I've been concerned about what others might think of me, at least to some degree. I can remember comparing myself to others as early as the second grade ... noticing that other girls were prettier or more popular or had nicer clothes.
What I'd like to know is, how does this start, and how can I keep my daughter from feeling the need to compare herself to others? Or are we girls just genetically hardwired to care about what others think of us?
My parents never compared me to anyone else, or pointed out that anyone else was in any way superior to me. They never said, "Why can't you be more like so-and-so?" So, it likely didn't come from them.
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As I said, having a baby will chip away a large chunk of the desire to appear perfect. No one I know has the time or energy for that. Yet I still, even when going through chemotherapy, was cognizant of making sure my child was dressed in a cute outfit for daycare. And I experienced a twinge (but only a twinge ... then it passed) of anxiety about whether I'd be judged if I brought store-bought snacks to a school carnival. (I certainly didn't go as far as this mom, but it wouldn't be that far-fetched for me.) I recognize that this is something I'll have to keep in check, this desire to appear like a perfectly organized mom. In reality, I'm not. In reality, I'm just doing the best I can.
There's something very freeing about confessing things like this to other moms. About saying that you don't have time to make your child's baby food (and that that awesome gourmet Baby Food Maker from La Sur La Table is still sitting in the box). About confessing that sometimes the most you or your child get is a sponge bath, or that sometimes you put your child to bed an hour earlier than her bedtime.
The same goes for going through cancer treatment. Now, I wasn't one to try to hide the fact that I had cancer. I shunned wigs and hats and walked around proudly with a bald head and face. You want to look at me funny because I'm a bald chick? Well, I've got cancer, buddy, so kiss my ass!
That being said, I still tried to put on a happy face going into treatment each time. I was upbeat and positive to the nurses and other patients. I put on lip gloss and resisted the urge to wear my pajamas into the cancer center. I liked being told that I looked healthy or that I seemed to be doing well. I wanted to be a motivator for others going through the same thing. But, boy, did it feel good to commiserate with others who were also going through treatment. To bitch about side effects and port-o-caths and chemo brain, among many, many other things.
What I've found is that each time I get real with someone, I win. Either I put off some uptight person who will never "get" me anyway, or I bond more closely with someone who turns out to be a kindred spirit. I have amazing female friends, one of whom reminds me regularly to "stop giving a fuck" when she sees me getting all angsty about something.
We all need those people in our lives who will lovingly remind us to stop caring so much about what others think. Who will let us know that not only is it safe for us to be totally ourselves in their presence, but that they wouldn't have it any other way.
My challenge will be to make sure that my daughter doesn't see me stressing over how I appear to others, that she never sees me pretending to be someone I'm not. That she is always encouraged to be who she is and to be real and to not change or stifle herself to please others.
I think that's the challenge for most of us people-pleasing females. To try not to give a fuck what others think. But when we do stop trying to control perceptions, when we get real, the rewards are great.
Try it and see. What do you have to lose?
Image via Erica Montgomery