I had a strange recollection today. In the middle of the mundane task of doing my nails, I remembered something from Jr. High School.
I was in a carpool to rehearsal with a group of girls we would call the “In Crowd” (of which I was not a part). Our mothers were all friends so by default we were all forced to tolerate each other regularly. One of them grabbed my hand to look at my nails, I had recently cut and buffed them myself. “Oh my god your nails! Look at the shape! It’s so pretty! Do they grow that way or do you have to cut them?” I was startled by the question. I said I had cut them but immediately felt her disapproval and covered saying I trimmed them along how they grew naturally. She made a noncommittal noise and we went back to riding in silence. I remember being humiliated that my nails didn’t naturally grow perfectly and that I had not lived up to expectations of this high ranking social crowd.
Remembering it now, it sparks different thoughts. Imagine, being shamed because something doesn’t come naturally. Work or any effort in doing my nails was being shamed because my body didn’t naturally fit the shape it was supposed to.
I feel as though this mentality carried over to other parts of my younger life. What hobbies or new things have I given up on because I wasn’t immediately or naturally talented? What else have I convinced myself that I just wasn’t built for?
How many other girls and women have grown up with this thought that work or developed skill isn’t as valuable as being naturally talented or beautiful?
In what world do women have nails that grow in perfect half moons, already shiny, with hair that never knots, muscles that appear in all the right places, and skills that just magically arrive when we hit certain ages?
I know a girl recently out of university who has never cooked before in her life and was confused as to why, when she tried to cook for the first time, she failed spectacularly. Like sauce on the ceiling spectacularly. She was distraught and didn’t understand. She was now an adult woman, she was supposed to be good at this stuff. Why was she, who had never chopped an onion in her life, not able to cook a basic meal the first time she turned on a stove by herself?
I hear similar stories like this all the time. Even from a few men embarrassed that they know nothing about cars, that I had to show them how to light a grill, that they haven’t magically developed “manly” talents.
How did we get to this point? Where did this world come from where we all expect ourselves to magically turn into our best selves, to pop into adulthood with all the necessary skills and appearances?
It starts young. These lessons we see as children never leave us. We feel the pressure to be so innately perfect that we fear trying, we fear failing, we fear never being good enough, so we don’t even try. Or worse, we expect the skills to just arrive without warning and beat ourselves up so thoroughly when they don’t that we spiral into further self-doubt.
We need to stop this cycle. With ourselves and with the future generations. Failing is learning, natural talent or beauty doesn’t trump hard work and effort in our appearance.
Easier said than done certainly, and I know I still beat myself up when I don’t pick up something new as quickly as others. But I still push myself to keep trying instead. So when I tried to learn poi for the first time and whacked myself in the face, I got some ice, sat for a minute, and then tried again. And learned to dodge faster.
It’s a process. It’s always a process.
I gave advice to an intern of mine several years back, I try to remember it for myself as well.
Does it get easier as we get older? No. But I can promise you, it gets more worth it.