I Am A Beautiful Person

My sister-in-law recently posted one of those “do this silly thing and post what you get” pictures on Facebook. I initially rolled my eyes and scrolled on by. But something – might have just been an unwillingness to turn off the phone and go to sleep – something made me scroll back up and read the comments.

They were mostly nonsensical, almost-funny statements. They all had some sort of grammar issue but almost, just almost made sense. And that intrigued me.

The “silly” thing you were to do was to put your phone in edit mode, you know, where the keyboard shows up. For most people (although not, it turns out, my husband), that results in three default words you can select without typing anything. The instruction was to tap the center word 20 times and post what you got.

So I did it and this is what I got:

I am a beautiful person. I am a beautiful person. I am a beautiful person. I am

If I had kept tapping that center word, I would have continued to announce to the world that I was a beautiful person.

A friend informed me that my phone was a narcissist. That would be one take, but it wasn’t my initial response to the phone’s mantra. My phone obviously knows me very well. I suppose it makes sense seeing as how so much of my life takes place through it: WordPress, Facebook, email, text messages, my calendar, my workout regiment, what games entertain me, where I want to go. Shoot, it even knows when I wake up each morning and when I want to be asleep. And how often my children need to be entertained by my phone. Even when our internet at home is down and I resort to my mobile hotspot to finish watching Netflix.

It obviously knew me well enough to know that correct grammar was important to me and so didn’t embarrass me with sticking oddball words in the middle of my random sentence, as if I were someone trying to write English assembly instructions despite English being my second (or third) language.

And it would appear that it knows how hard I am on myself. No, I don’t think my phone is a narcissist. I think it was trying to encourage me to practice positive self-talk. Just tell yourself this, it was saying to me. Just tell yourself this over and over and over and over again until you believe it. Truly, deeply believe it – not just an academic acceptance, but in your soul.

That must be what it was doing because it never would say anything else, no matter how many times I tried.

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The Amazons vs. The Pixies

I drove Jane to school one recent morning. This was a rare event brought about by a disagreement over showering requirements that had her left behind when the Daddy Wagon departed. She was an emotional wreck, as is common with teenagers when they feel they aren’t in control of their lives, and indicated that there were other stressful things going on in her life beyond her father’s expectations on personal hygiene.

Namely, she said she has been doubting herself. On the one hand, this didn’t surprise me since that’s one thing the average teenager does quite well. On the other, she has always seemed to exude confidence and an impervious response to the harsh words of her peers.

When she was finally ready, I put my hands on her cheeks and said, “You are beautiful and smart and funny and outgoing and a great person. It’s our job to make sure you make good choices and sometimes you aren’t going to like the way we do that. Just know that we are always on your side. There are no more committed players on Team Jane than your Daddy and me, ok?”

And then her Daddy, who had just returned home, mangled one of our favorite lines from The Help and told her, “You is smart, you is pretty, and you is sweet.” She smiled and hugged him – peace restored – and then we headed to the car.

Once rolling, I asked what was going on. I was met with an explosive expression of frustration about the new boyfriend of one of her best friends. He had tagged her with a nickname the year before which had been intended as an insult about her muscular thighs. She had worn it as a badge of honor. Only, recently she had discovered that it wasn’t about her thighs after all. It was that he in general though she looked “manly.” And now other people had taken up calling her that and it was getting to her. Especially since she considered him to otherwise be a nice guy. I guess it would have been easier to take if she could have written him off as a jerk.

She had actually already mentioned the true intent of the nickname last week so I had been thinking about it quite a bit. I took a deep breath and jumped in.

My daughter is beautiful. She truly is. But she’s also a big girl. Now, I don’t mean that as a euphemism for someone overweight – she is not that. She’s just bigger than most. At 5’8″ and probably done, she won’t be considered tall by the time everyone catches up but she’s been the tallest person around until recently and still one of the tallest girls. Her feet are very long. As a women’s size 11, she frequently shops in the men’s section. Her bones are big – her wrist was bigger than mine when she was in the third grade. Her back is broad, her limbs are muscular, and her facial features are strong. I simply marvel at how splendidly made she is.

Add in her intelligence and tendency to put it front and center, and she’s not a girl for just anyone.

“Sweetheart,” I said. “You are a big fish and quite frankly, this is a pretty small pond.” I named some of her petite little friends and said, “Most of the boys are going to be drawn to girls like them. They are little pixie girls and they fit the role of what the boys think they are looking for. They can be the cute little side kick that hangs on the boy’s arm. I’m not saying that’s what they are but the boys that are looking for that can see them as that. You aren’t that. It’s going to take a special guy to appreciate what you have to offer, but trust me, that’s the kind of guy you want.

“Yeah, you are a big woman,” I continued, “but that doesn’t make you unattractive or manly. You are an Amazon woman. You are Wonder Woman.” This made her smile. “Seriously, girl. You are statuesque.”

“You are one of them.”

“One of who?”

“You are one of those pixie girls. Especially now with the short spiky hair.”

This derailed me for a minute. I’ve never once thought of myself in a similar vein to that of her smaller friends. True, I’m petite: not very tall and small boned, but I’ve never had the bubbly personality. My hips are too big and my face too strong featured to be a pixie. Nonetheless, in her eyes, I’m tiny, just like them.

Anyway, I pressed the issue regarding her friend’s boyfriend, who appeared to be the root of her problem. “You know,” I said, “his girlfriend is pretty much the same size you are. You guys trade clothes.”

“Yeah,” she said, “she’s just a little bit smaller in the waist and not quite as tall.”

“So the next time he calls you manly, just say, ‘You know, Marissa and I are the same build. We trade clothes with each other. So what does this mean you think about your girlfriend? Personally, I think she’s beautiful and so am I.”

Her face lit up. Sometimes all our kids need is some help with the witty comebacks when other kids are getting them down. I went on to talk about how hard the teen years are and how there’s pretty much “the cool crowd” and “everyone else.” I assured her that when she went away to college, there’d be a lot more people and it’d be easier to find her “people” – those folks who are interested in similar things and who appreciate her for who she is. Right now, she just has to hang on and survive Small Town USA.

A Woman in a Man’s World

I’m a woman who works with men most of the time. Always have. When I was a teenager, I was active in Explorer Scouts, an extension of Boy Scouts of America. It was co-ed, but still mostly guys. I went on to college where I majored in Electrical Engineering. By the last half, I had settled in with a nice group of 4 or 5 girls, but most of my classmates were men. Then I got a job in Software Engineering, again, men.

This has never bothered me, particularly. I get along with my male coworkers. I’m not a high-strung woman that takes offense easily. I’m not overly girly in my speaking or mannerisms. I wear jeans and tennis shoes to work, just like any of the other guys.

But I’ve been having this strange awakening lately. It’s come partially from interacting with more female coworkers and partially from reading blogs from other women in male dominated fields, like this one.

I’m starting to realize things I do because I’m the only woman in the room.

Take, for instance, some coworkers who like to complain about the government. Their political point-of-view is quite different from mine. From my perspective, at least one of them has fallen for some major fish stories. I frequently wish they’d just shut up. Or go talk somewhere else so I can’t hear them.

Do I say anything?

Do I walk over and say, “Hey, guys, would you mind keeping it about work? I don’t want to listen to this.”?

No. I don’t.

I always thought it was just my eagerness to fit in and be liked that kept me out of such confrontations. After talking with a like-minded female colleague, I’ve come to realize that there is another reason I stay silent. They might very well do what I ask, but it wouldn’t be out of respect for me and my rights. No, they’d roll their eyes and when a topic started to come up next time, they’d say in a low voice, “Well, we can’t talk about that because… you know… the woman will be offended.”

I’ve always thought of myself as one of the guys and always assumed they saw me the same. But when I transferred into my current work group, many of whom I’ve worked with before, a small handful bemoaned gaining women in the group: “Oh, I’ll have to start behaving myself now that there will be women here.”

I was recently test solving puzzles for a friend who was writing a puzzle hunt. He had a group of six of us that were communicating about the puzzles via group emails. I was the only woman. It didn’t bother me until one night near the end of the solving. There were two or three batches of puzzles to solve – 10-15 puzzles, each taking me about 3-5 minutes to solve and provide feedback on.

I was tired. Maybe a little depressed and unmotivated. I didn’t feel very good. My stomach was cramping. No… not those “lady cramps” – real, literal stomach cramping. I. Did. Not. Want. To. Solve. Those. Puzzles.

But I did.

Why?

He would have understood. If I just said, “Hey, I’m burned out. I need a break. I’ll get to these tomorrow but I bet everyone else is already giving you great feedback”, he would have been like, “Man, that’s fine. I totally understand.” And it would have sounded just like that. He’s a cool guy.

So why did I solve them? Because I was the only woman participating. At least one guy had his wife solving too but she wasn’t one of the original requested solvers. It was just me and a bunch of guys. And I just couldn’t be the woman too weak to finish it out.

It reminded me of Petra in Ender’s Game – the book, not the movie. At the end, during “Command School”, when the kids were being pushed well past their breaking points, Petra buckled under the pressure. She made a mistake with devastating consequences. She felt horrible. She had let down the team. And I always felt that she took it harder because she was the only girl participating. She had always needed to be better than all the guys to be considered an equal and when she stumbled, she feared people would think it was because she was female and couldn’t handle it.

When I was in high school, in that Explorer Post, we hiked at Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico. Two weeks, hiking rugged trails and camping in tents. Four adults, eight guys, two girls. One day, we arrived at the base of an infamously brutal climb: Bear Canyon. I was part of the day’s water crew and the campsite we were headed to was dry. We had filled up the extra large water bag and some of the guys were gleefully adding the 20 or so pounds to my already fully-loaded pack.

As the water dropped into place, I felt the weight hit my hips and my knees buckled slightly. At that point, I was carrying over half my body weight on my back. I hefted the weight and, trying not to sound worried or incapable, asked if anyone was going to take it from me part of the way up.

“If you can keep up!” one of them exclaimed before they all scampered up the trail.

I saw red. How dare they?! I’ll show them! So I started walking. I held my water bottle in my hand, picked out a comfortable pace, and just kept walking. I didn’t stop. I didn’t slow down. I. Just. Walked.

And eventually, I caught up with them taking a break on a log. There was my chance to divest myself of the 20 pounds of water. But I walked by as if I was having no trouble at all. In fact, like I hadn’t even seen them.

And I beat them to the top. Just barely. A few guys – who hadn’t taunted me – got there earlier than I and were playing a game of cards. They motioned me over and quickly tossed me some cards so I’d look like I was playing. I worked very hard to regulate my gasps into semi-normal breathing.

The older brother of my main taunter looked up as they approached. “About time you got here,” he said, “She’s been here for ages.”

The comment made me feel good. But it was crazy that I felt the need to prove myself in that way.

Women in male-dominated arenas often feel forced to prove themselves. Like the “lady preachers” in the linked blog above, keeping it serious so that they will be treated seriously. Afraid to look or act too much like a woman, lest they not be treated like a professional.