Being Real

“Honesty makes me feel powerful in a difficult world.”

-Cher

Back when I was part of the corporate world, I would often sit and chat with the other ladies in my department about the colorful reality shows we watched the night before.  Of course our tv viewing of choice usually bordered on the ridiculous.  Whatever craziness we could find on VH-1 or Bravo would do nicely.    It was a fun way to pass the time and relieve stress in our often high pressure environment.  And I suppose we were bonding and forming friendships on some level.

We would laugh and talk about the latest catfights, the hot drama and how the reality stars, almost always women, would make enemies and form alliances at the drop of a hat (I really do use the term “star” reluctantly, but for lack of a better one I’ll go with it here).

I started noticing how the once in-good-fun conversations would inevitably shift.  We used to laugh about the latest episode of the Housewives of Whatever-It-Was that week.  But somehow it became one giant pity party.  About the $150,000 car someone drives on the show.  The latest six figure South Coast Plaza shopping spree.  The 22,000 square foot house someone lives in, with her army of hired help.   Or (and this is my favorite) the size of the diamond earrings one character received from her husband after her breast implant surgery.

Our water cooler chat suddenly wasn’t so fun anymore, and we all felt it.  We weren’t laughing.  Instead we would sit there and contemplate the apparent inadequacies in our lives.  How we wore the wrong clothes and drove the wrong cars.  And if only we could pay for all that plastic surgery, too, we would be subjecting ourselves to anything that would make us beautiful, albeit artificially.

After discussing such nonsense and missing the point, I was left not knowing what to say.

So much for finding the humor in the antics and drama.

Our culture is more hyper-competitive than ever.  And sometimes it doesn’t feel so good when I think about the old Honda I drive, or that I have to think about my household bills as much as I do.  Or that lately I have to resort to “shopping my closet” and I just can’t head to the mall and buy something new whenever I feel like it.  Sometimes it seems everyone else has so much more and has it so much better.  But it does reach a point where proper perspective is seriously in order.

There are challenges in being authentic.  I will be the first to admit, in my twenties I had a tendency to be overly concerned with material things, and perhaps I presented a version of myself to the world which wasn’t 1000% the real me.  Part of it was the scene I had immersed myself in and the people I associated with.  But ultimately how I chose to react to it was completely on me.  Just like most things that come with age, priorities change and you learn to not give a rat’s ass about certain things, not to mention certain people and their opinions.  What concerned me at 25 is now laughable at nearly 40.

There I was, struggling to live up to expectations, be them mine or someone else’s.   In a way I wasn’t much different from these so-called reality celebs of today.

When I really think about it, this is what I see when I watch these shows: women who desperately try to put their best faces forward.  In actuality, their lives are not without problems.  They do not have lives I envy.  Not even close.  While some have been brutally honest about divorce or abuse or financial challenges, most are desperately keeping up appearances as if their lives depend on it.  Most seem to be living a lie.  One minute they are on camera plunking down $75,000 for plastic surgery, and the next minute word of their impending home foreclosure hits the airwaves.   Crazy.

The Jackie O. style Dior sunglasses I have tucked away in my drawer cost me a pretty penny, but they don’t make me more interesting or make my life any better.  On one episode from the most recent season of The Real Housewives Of Beverly Hills, one of the peripheral characters was bragging about her sunglasses and their $30,000+ price tag.  Now, one hears this and wonders how the hell sunglasses could be so expensive.  Apparently they were encrusted with diamonds or some other precious stone.  Regardless, they sure as hell didn’t make her more interesting either.  If anything, the way she went about it, they made her come off like a fool.  The display left me wondering what was really going on in this woman’s life.  It is one thing to buy such things.  That’s fine.  More power to anyone who can and wants to do that.  But to talk about it?   In my mind that is where it got problematic.

I think one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself and the world is being brave enough to tell it like it is.  To not be afraid to present yourself to the world just as you are, warts and all.  What others do and have isn’t necessarily genuine, or it isn’t the whole picture.  It’s kind of like going on Facebook and seeing all the wonderful news and photos people are sharing.  The latest promotion, the recent exotic vacation or whatever.  Everyone putting their best version of themselves out there, but conveniently leaving out the things that maybe aren’t going so well.  I stopped believing that everyone has it better than I do.

It wasn’t long ago when I wouldn’t miss an episode of the Wives Of Whatever.  And the drama or catfight du jour on The Bachelor.   But these days I don’t really have the time or the patience.  Sure, I will tune in to a reality show when I feel like it.  I will catch a rerun, but I never arrange my life around when this stuff is coming on.   Every night I look forward to seeing what is on the History Channel, or Animal Planet, or the Discovery Channel. I would much rather learn something cool about the universe or the pyramids, lost civilizations or American history, the oceans or our animal friends.  The things that fill my mind with knowledge and leave me searching for more.

I often wonder about the obsession with the perceived haves in our society and what it all means to the have nots.  Who decides what is beautiful and what isn’t.  Who decides who and what is interesting and worth talking about.  And all the while the truly fascinating stories in life go unnoticed.

It’s hard work, being real.  It is so easy to want the shiny things and the perfect life, and to want everyone to think you are shiny and perfect, too.  It almost always comes at a considerable and destructive expense.  When I need some perspective and I struggle to be real, I check in with a lifelong friend.  You may have this very same friend.  His story is a famous one, and very meaningful in this object obsessed world we live in.

It means a lot to me.  I hope it helps you when you are out there, and if you ever struggle just a bit to be your awesome and authentic self.

The Skin Horse had lived longer in the nursery than any of the others.  He was so old that his brown coat was bald in patches and showed the seams underneath, and most of the hairs in his tail had been pulled out to string bead necklaces.  He was wise, fo he had seen a long succession of mechanical toys arrive to boast and swagger, and by-and-by break their mainsprings and pass away, and he knew that they were only toys, and would never turn into anything else.  For nursery magic is very strange and wonderful, and only those playthings that are old and wise and experienced like the Skin Horse understand all about it.

“What is Real?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room.  “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse.  “It’s a thing that happens to you.  When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become REAL.”

“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.

“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful.  “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”

“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”

“It doesn’t happen all at once, “said the Skin Horse.  “You become.  It takes a long time.  That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept.  Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby.  But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

“I suppose you are Real?” said the Rabbit.  And then he wished he had not said it, for he thought the Skin Horse might be sensitive.

But the Skin Horse only smiled.

-The Velveteen Rabbit

by Margery Williams

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