Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Effort to Seem Effortless

Paulina Porizkova, if my genes had cooperated.

I actually drew this picture in my high school sketchbook.

Mother-daughter relationships can be complicated. At least, mine was. I needed a role model to figure out:

what to wear

how to tame my curly hair

how to impress guys

and all those other mysteries that came with becoming a woman.

Problem was, my mother couldn’t help me. So I looked to my friends for help.

My family moved when I was nine-years-old. A girl my age with long, blonde hair (the kind I’d coveted since kindergarten) lived across street. Her mother made her befriend me. (It’s true.) But our proximity eventually elevated the relationship to Best Friends.

When we were thirteen, she became a cheerleader. She wasn’t the prettiest or most popular girl in our grade. But she was more than me. And while I poured through beauty magazines, practiced makeup for hours, agonized over clothing, and battled my hair…

She seemed above all that.

First of all, she had straight hair. Did I mention it was blonde? Because of Indiana Jones, fedoras became popular. She could pull off wearing one.

My curly boring brown hair and tiny head couldn’t carry a fedora.

Makeup came in two colors – blue eyeliner and pink lipstick. When my BF did wear makeup, blue eyeliner and blue liner looked perfect with her blonde tresses (at least we all thought so at the time. HORROR!) and pink lipstick gave her a perfect pout. Did I mention she had porcelain skin?

My mud-brown eyes, thin lips, and lackluster skin couldn’t pull off the blues and pinks.

And when we went Goth, she was Gothier:

While she channeled Siouxie from Siouxie and the Banshees…

…I resembled Vanessa from The Cosby Show (sans full lips).

Somehow, even with her lack of interest in her appearance, she always looked put together. And boys were interested in her.

More than they were interested in me, anyway.

My BF didn’t like to leave the house. Today, we’d call it agoraphobia, but back then it had no label. As a kid, I used to borrow a book from the library Angela the Dull Princess. Unkindly, my father called my friend that name behind her back.

When we got older, she’d go to school, say she felt sick, throw up, and return home. It took years before she was properly labeled.

Much in her life unraveled. And so did she. The ways I tried to help didn’t help much. And my own life was filled with misery. At some point my friend medicated, which changed her personality. I’d already been making the sole effort to maintain the friendship since she hardly went anywhere.

When we were about 19, I gave up.

Years later, I felt sorry I hadn’t explained why I stopped coming by. I reached out a few times, but she wasn’t interested in anything beyond an apology. Whatever we had in common was long gone.

I never really wanted to be like her, I wanted to have her Could-Care-Less attitude. Now I realize she cared too. She hid, which is different from not caring.

I suspect most of us have known people who seemed to have it together. Beneath that exterior lurked demons we may not have known, at least, not at first. It reminds me of the show "My So Called Life" because Angela is drawn to Rayanne, who appears carefree, but is a BIG mess.

In Kirsten Hubbard’s debut book Like Mandarin , Grace would give anything to be like Mandarin. The premise of this book resonates with me. Check out Kirsten Hubbard’s BLOG for more details about the book.

Tell me:

Who would you have given

anything to be like?


  1. Whoo, man Theresa you've been hitting that ball home with your posts lately. I'm just waiting for your book(s) to come out and do to me on an even larger scale what your mini stories do.

    When I was young I would have given anything to be tall so I could model. I was skinny, but short. And still am.

  2. This is such a heartbreaking post, but you're right--most of us spend a lot of time wishing we were like someone else. I always wished I had curly hair, because my pin-straight hair always lay flat against my head in a time (late eighties/early nineties, yes, I am old) when big hair was the thing. I always wanted to be something different, whether it was skinnier, shorter, whatever. And I still wrestle with some of those feelings. Because of this post, I'll go take a look at Like Mandarin--so thanks!

  3. Man, what a tough story. Thanks so much for sharing it with us!

  4. This was one heck of a post Theresa... I LOVED IT!!!! What a different take!! Fantastic!!!

    Mine is much less thought out and just someone I had always dreamed of being... so juvenile.

  5. Wow. You never know. Hope she's ok today. You turned out great! (from what little I see)

    I was a stubborn geek in HS - I didn't want to be like anyone but I struggled with things like we all do in that stage of change. I just wanted to have a good time. Take it or leave it =)

  6. I did a post ages ago saying I entered into a competition to be 'National Children's Day Princess' and learnt then that brunettes never get to be the princess. Around that time, I entered a poem into the same newspaper and it was published.
    So I think I learnt then that looks weren't everything and it is important to be yourself.
    Great post, Theresa, you did your best to help your friend but sounds like you needed some TLC yourself.

  7. I always wanted to be famous which is why I joined the theatre crew in high school. I was for a time. And then we graduated.

    I had a little more (well, I wouldn't exactly call it fame, more along the lines of name recognition) when I was a caterer in my little town. It was nice.

    Now, I'd like a little more name recognition. Perhaps a little fame but not a lot. I don't think I would want to do Oprah.

  8. What a great post! There's definitely a plot in there somewhere. Perhaps I'll borrow it...

  9. Ugh, this may seem "bratty" of me, but in advance I swear it's not. I was THAT girl. I had the hair everyone wanted, I had the skin that was without flaw, I had the boys, I had the friends, I had the carefree attitude but JUST like her I cared a lot, and at some point I lost friends when I sought help for the things I struggled with. Your post really hit a nail on the head just from her angle (which is why it might seem bratty). The only thing I ever wanted to be, was free from the pressure to be perfect. And, I finally found that.

  10. I appreciated your post. It's so easy to be discontented with who/what we are that we miss the gifts that we have, especially when we're young.

  11. This is a great post Theressa. You know, the people who always seem careless and everyone thinks they have a devil-may-care attitude?? It usually means they care MORE. I know because no one thought I gave a crap about how I looked, everyone thought/still thinks what I do is effortless. But it isn't. We all want to be someone else at some point.

    This post must have been hard for you to share so props to you!

  12. Beautifully written my friend. Who would I have liked to be? The answer, to not be the hidden BF you just described.
    Jules @ Trying To Get Over The Rainbow

  13. The wheel turns... Skin deep is never deep enough... Time tells...

    You are you and your life and choices have shaped you as you are now... Anything else would be less and a loss.

    Personality, circumstance, upbringing made it so that I have always been adamantly almost militantly myself... Against anything and anyone. A self that habitually made/makes believe to be other people (or perhaps characters would be closer to the truth), but never wanted to actually be anyone else. I guess to some extent I've always been waffle-centric: eggocentric. Comes with the trade. ;j

  14. It is hard to keep a friendship alive when only one is making the effort. We always wish we did more, but as we are living it are all we can think of. Hindsight is a wonderful/curse of a thing.

    I don't remember wanting to be like anyone. There were things about me I did wish were differnet and admired in others. I wished I had an easy way with people.

  15. Wow. Powerful stuff here. We just never know what is really going on in someone's life and it's even harder when you are trying to navigate those though teen years.

    I wanted different hair. Sometimes I still want different hair.

  16. Sad story about your friend. But you ARE beautiful. You did become that lovely, confident woman you so wanted to be. *explains to folks that Theresa did NOT pay her to say these things, they came straight from her heart*

    I guess I wanted to be this girl that was the most popular girl EVAH! But the thing is, I can't even remember her name. Funny, huh?

  17. Hmm I remember strongly admiring Madonna and Tina Turner. And my best friend and I watched "Desperately Seeking Susan" about five thousand times (and we knew all the little lines in it).

  18. Awwww it's so weird how people drift apart - no-one's fault - people just do!

    I've seen your younger pics - you and gorgeous curly hair and you look just lovely!!! :-)

    I'd love to have been taller. That was my biggest wish. To have these gorgeous tall long legs up to my armpits rather than the stumpy ones I have!! LOL! Bo Derek's legs.

    Take care

  19. Wow, wonderful post! I so want to be Gothy. I had no idea you did that!

    And is it wrong that I chuckled at "my tiny head"? Because that is FUNNY.

  20. Fabulous post, Theresa! I'd say you nailed this. Thanks for your kindness this week on Facebook--you're the best.

  21. I especially liked your observation "She hid, which is different from not caring." That is definitely something that I can relate to. When I was younger, I was painfully shy and used to hide behind books because it was easier to read about people than talk to them. I did envy the girls who could do and say whatever they wanted without worrying what other people thought of them. Sometimes I still envy them.

  22. Wow, that was one deep post. Thanks for sharing, Theresa!

  23. This was the best post I've read. Not only was it funny, it was also heartbreaking.

  24. @ Sophia the Writer, thank you for the compliment. I'm trying to bring the same emotion into the fiction that I do into some of these blog posts. Let's hope someday....

    At 5'3" I'm too short too!

    @ Sarah, we do spend too much time wishing to be others instead of appreciating ourselves, especially when we were teens.

    Yes, the 80s was all about big hair. Too straight or too curly just wasn't right.

    @ Matthew, thank you.

    @ Jen, I had people like that I looked up to too. I could've written about 4 or 5 different posts.

    @ Tara, from what I've heard, she's doing well.

    It's so hard to figure out who we are during those teenage years.

    @ Brigid, it really did seem like being a brunette was the wrong "color" to be. Angelina Jolie and Megan Fox seem to be doing all right.

    That friend, another friend, and I had such upheavals in our homes during our teenage years. It was good we had each other back then.

  25. Wow... Theresa... this story just hits home with me. Isn't it weird how we go our whole lives wanting to be something we're not? For me, I've always wanted to be thinner or have straighter hair (I'm like you with the curls). But in reality, you just have to accept yourself for who and what you are. I always (and still do) want to be my sister. She has this contagious personality. You can't help but like her and ultimately, that's all I want from people (I'm a horrible people pleaser.)

    But I'm just me. Thanks for posting this. It helps to know that sometimes other people feel the way you do.

  26. OK, I don't wish I had curly hair, I go and have my staight hair permed!

    Your post is heart-breaking as I have a teenage daughter and everyday I hear complains of how she is not pretty enough or her nose is not to her liking!

  27. @ Anne, we probably all flirt with the idea of fame. How cool you got a little.

    I'd like to have name recognition as an author and make a living at writing. I'd be satisfied with that!

    @ Judy, hmmm... a plot. Feel free!

    @ Erica, nice to hear from THAT girl. Thank you for sharing. The mother in "My So Called Life" acknowledged she was that girl in high school too. But that she hadn't enjoyed it, and then she was past it.

    @ Connie, it's so true. It's sad what we magnify in our minds. I hated be skinny. Now I miss being skinny. I guess why they say youth is wasted on the young.

    @ Melissa, it's funny when we put someone on a pedestal, not realizing they have someone else on a pedestal. Nobody is immune from insecurity.

    It was weird writing this post. But the ones that make me feel uncomfortable are the posts that seem to resonate with people the most.

    @ Jules, my friend went through some of the same problems that her mother did. Even her mom didn't know quite how to help. Looking back, it was sadder than I realized at the time.

  28. @ Alesa, I figured you wouldn't try too hard to fit in. I tried more to fit in when I was a younger teenager. I cared less when I was in high school, but never really shed it until later. Sadly, I think it's only in the last decade that I really feel comfortable with who I am. Now it's aging that gets to me sometimes.

    It's true, we are a sum of our experiences.

    @ Ann, always making the effort really bothered me. If I didn't contact her for three weeks and then showed up, it didn't bother her.

    It's good you didn't want to be anyone in particular. I'd like to have an easier way with people too.

    @ Bossy Betty, don't we ALL want different hair? My sister has perfect hair and she complains too.

    @ Robyn, that is very sweet. I'm terrible at taking compliments so I will try not to say anything negative about myself in response.

    You probably don't remember her name because she existed as a representation.

    @ LR, ha! This same friend watched "Desperately Seeking Susan about 5 thousand times too! She watched a lot of TV. She had cable. HBO. I wanted that back then too!

    @ Old Kitty, thank you. I look back and think I didn't look so bad. But back then, I really did think my hair was more like Vanessa's.

    I wanted long legs too. As for Bo Derek - I wanted to be the kind of person who could pull off braids like that.

  29. I was accused of having a tiny head many years ago!(dumped him)

    Its why short hair didnt suit me, head like a Malteser on these broad shoulders! (I had to laugh at that phrase reminded me of a similar one - tic tac head)Poor us!

    I wanted curly hair, and a blemish free face, not much to ask but I never took the nessecary steps! There was no That Girl, (or maybe I've blanked her out! )Marilyn Monroe would've done me...!

    You really captured those horrible feelings that divide and conquer young girls...makes me glad I'm older...

    Brilliant post.

  30. Oooh deep post.
    But I do remember there were twins in my high school who were absolutely gorgeous--(if one looking like that wasn't bad enough, but TWO?!) Perfect teeth, smart, and popular. But they did have one flaw: the grating squeaky voice. LOL Otherwise, I wanted to be them. :)
    I look back now and realize I was pretty blessed back then and now too.

  31. @ Elana, I'll put up a few high school pictures sometime.

    I was so petite - 5'3", 95 pounds, and small bones. No wonder my head was small! (Actually I weigh more and my head is still small!)

    @ Shannon, thank you. I know you had a difficult week. But I'm glad to see how much support you received.

    @ Neurotic Workaholic, I must've been somewhere in between shy people like you and those who could say anything without caring.

    You teach now, so you must've come out of your shell.

    @ Nicole, thank you. I appreciate it.

    @ Stina, thank you. I wrote it a few days ago, and then had second thoughts about posting it because of how personal it was. I'm glad I did.

    @ Katie, you straighten your hair too? I started two years ago. I decided, the technology is out there. I can learn how to use a flatiron.

    I want my sister's hair.

    I know what you mean about wanting to please. I hate saying no to people.

    It is nice knowing people are just as insecure. I've grown out of most of it, but not completely. Do any of us ever?

  32. Hmmm, what did I want as a teenager? I think I've blocked it out. Best to forget.

    Oh, I remember. I wanted my hair to grow out (I had awful layers). It did. In college. So, goal achieved, and the wanting was released.

    I don't think I wanted to be like anybody in particular. I just wanted to be more comfortable in my own skin. That's still what I want. I'm closer to it now than ever before.

  33. Powerfully said. It's hard to reach out to someone who doesn't know how to reach back.

    My Mandarin was also carelessly perfect. She seemed to breeze through life, but underneath were a whole passel of issues.

  34. Omg. I wanted to be ten different people at the same time, but the list changed every ten minutes when I was a teenager.

    Apparently my teen self knew the validity of the metric system though.

  35. What a heartfelt response to this prompt! Thanks for sharing. That must be hard to look back on--it'd take some long-thinking to understand.

  36. @ Nas, I guess we all battle whatever hair we're born with. Hair is lighter/darker/curlier/straighter/thicker/thinner on the other person!

    I'm sorry about your daughter wrestling with her looks. I guess it's hard to escape.

    @ Words A Day, there was actually head measuring at a teacher's Christmas party a few years back. While I had the same width as another small-headed chick, my height was an inch longer. Saved me from being called pinhead behind my back.

    Yeah, adults are just as mean and stupid as kids.

    Glad you knew to dump the guy. And even gladder you didn't get sucked up in girl envy.

    @ Lynda, as a little kid, I mostly had short, curly hair. I had a yellow sweater, that I put on my head, pretending it was long, blonde hair. I know, sad.

    @ Jennifer, your picture is so pretty. Hard to believe you went through an awkward phase.

    I had blonde, cute twins in my junior high. They wore matching turquoise sweat outfits with unicorns on them that were all the rage. (Looking back, why???). I wanted to look like them and have a unicorn sweat outfit, though mine would've been purple.

    @ Liz, blocking out teen years is good. Though, what would I write about?

    We're all not completely comfortable in our skin. It's something we strive for. And just as we get there, the skin sags, expands....

    @ Jemi, I hated being the one reaching out. It made me feel less important.

    Most of us have our Mandarins, don't we?

  37. Whew. This struck a chord. Besides being beautifully written, you admit to some pretty powerful emotions.

    It seems the perfect friends never have it all together, hey?

  38. Wow, this post resonates with me and almost exactly reflects my experience with a best friend. She ended up being anorexic and bipolar. I look back now and know I was very misguided in thinking she had it all.

  39. Wow, what a wonderfully written and sad post, Theresa. It's funny, because sometimes the people who we envy are those who inside, are so unhappy. Growing up, I would have given anything to be one of the 'popular' girls - I was kind of middle-of-the-road, fade-into-the-background. But when I went to my 10-year high-school reunion... let's just say I was happy to be me and my wish hadn't come true!

  40. hi miss theresa! that was a cool post. it got me feeling real sad but i like how it ended that you found out its mostly her dont care attitude that you wanted. how cool is that! for me right now i cant think who i could give anything to be like. but for sure i could like to be a lot like buddha.
    ...hugs from lenny

  41. Gosh, Theresa, I love your posts! This one resonates with me. It's very true we always want to be somebody else. When I was growing up, I wanted to be as pretty as my friend who was tall, fair-skinned and with dark, big eyes. I felt so plain and so dark when I was young. But when I grew older, I got confident in my own skin. I love the ending you've written here. Great post once again, Theresa! :)

  42. A heartfelt post. When I was younger, I'd have given anything to be like the most popular girls in school. Thankfully as I grew up and gained more perspective in life, I became happier with who I was. I guess despite my physical flaws, I realize there are more important things to worry about (such as the recent tragedy in Japan.)

  43. @ Jonathan, I had many I was impressed by too. Sadly, many of them were models so I wasn't going to learn much from them.

    @ Christine, it was hard to look back on. I hadn't thought about her in a long time. When I was first asked the question, I didn't know who I'd write about. I had spend some time figuring it out.

    @ Anne, thanks. You're right, nobody has it together. We think they do, but they're trying to figure out the same stuff.

    @ Juliana, when we're younger our idea of perfection is so superficial that we don't notice signs that are pretty obvious now.

    @ Talli, my (cough) year reunion was eye-opening for me. My husband, who went to the same high school, was one of the few who still had hair, wasn't too heavy, and didn't have a big neck. While most of the women still looked pretty good, I felt good about where I was. Many were separated or divorced. Even though I wasn't where I wanted to be professionally, personally I was happy.

    @ Lenny, if you want to be like Buddha, you're ahead of the rest of us at your age.

    @ Len, thank you. I felt plain on my best days and hideous on my worst. It's sad we do that to ourselves. At least we grow out of it.

    @ Nutschell, yes, Japan is a good reminder for me as an adult about what's important. Young and old, we can fixate on such trivia.

  44. This is a WOW post! Isn't it sad how so many people become 'lost' because of undiagnosed illnesses. And we often don't even know they're ill!

    I would still like to know the key to the 'I don't care' way of looking at things....

    And I would have liked to have been just about anybody that wasn't me.

    Great post, Theresa.

    And Happy St. Patrick's Day!

  45. Theresa, this was amazing. It's funny how we each look back and remember people like this. People who had it all together, and then later we realized they didn't. One of my high school friends later confided that she was going through some awful stuff at the time, and I never even knew it. I felt horrible.

  46. omg, Theresa. *snort* we really are the same person. Except for the goth part. I wouldn't have been brave enough to be Goth if we'd had that--I'm a little older than you.

    Curly/unruly hair? Check! (I tried straightening it in 10th grade--this was pre-products--and the cutest guy in our grade said I looked like Bozo the clown. *shame*)

    But our BFs sound very similar. Except for the end part. Mine was gorgeous, dancer, Golden Girl at LSU, on to pharmaceutical rep... sigh.

    I loved her, though.

    That book is going to touch everyone, I can tell. It's brilliant~ :o) <3

  47. What a lovely tribute to the book. I'll have to check this one out!

  48. I know what you mean about not wanting to be your friend but wanting to have that I-don't-care attitude. I totally felt like that too. However, now that I think about it, everyone I know- even the most beautiful and intelligent people I know- have insecurities

    To answer your question, I don't know if there was anyone else I wanted to be. I always just wanted to be a better version of myself.

  49. @ The Words Crafter, it was sad it took her long to be diagnosed and even sadder that all they could think to do was medicate.

    Sadly, I'm like you. I looked at most people and thought they had it better than me.

    @ Julie, funny more of us don't write stories like this, at least YA writers because apparently this idea strikes a nerve.

    My two friends and I really didn't have it all together, and relied on one another for support. But other people are more private, like your friend.

    @ LTM, that's funny that our experiences were so similar.

    As for the Goth part, spending most of my time in the art department made it easier. And I didn't do it for all the high school years.

    You're right, this book is going to touch everyone.

    @ Deniz, thanks!

    @ Missed Periods, I agree, the most beautiful and intelligent people do have insecurities. As teenagers, we think most problems stem from looks, so how can that be?

    A better version of yourself? That's probably better than trying to be someone else.

  50. I LOVE this because it sounds so much like me. It's so true you-even in those we think we admire, we never really know what's making them tick. no one is perfect and in retrospect, it's easier to see.

  51. @ Candyland, I agree. It's amazing what we understand as adults that we couldn't see then.

  52. You told me to stop by and I am so glad I did. This is an incredibly well-written post. If it's any indication of how you usually are, this will be one of my favorite places to visit.

    As for my answer, I grew up in the shadow of my dad. I wanted to be as tough as him, as calm and collected as him, as capable as he always seemed to be. Later on I realized that he was just as human as the rest of us, and I also found out who I really needed to be. I have picked up a few of his good traits, but I have a few of my own bad ones as well.

  53. @ Eric, I'm glad you stopped by too. Thank you.

    How nice that you think of your dad as a role model. I had some adults I looked up to, but over time, they each disappointed me. You're right, we don't see the flaws when we're young.

  54. Great post, Theresa! I absolutely loved Rayanne from My So-Called Life. She was my favorite character - besides Jordan Catalano, of course. :) But yes, she was a mess. I can't really think of anyone I wanted to be like, but I'm sure there were plenty.

  55. @ Susan, Jordan was pretty cute, if not the smartest guy on the planet. That was a great show. Too bad it didn't last longer.

  56. A very sad story. I hope wherever your old friend is that she's having a better life now.

    Kids are bombarded by so many things that tell them they have to be or look a certain way, just at the time when they want most to fit in. Of course, I went through that too. I've always been different and it tended to make me a target. I guess only beautiful people are allowed to be "different."

    I still try to tone myself down so I won't stand out. I'm at an age now where women are supposed to "grow old gracefully," not wear sparkles and bright colors. This last weekend I desperately wanted a metallic silver and a metallic gold handbag, but I talked myself out of it, thinking instead I should go for a plain brown or black one.

  57. @ Mary Anne, I've heard my old friend is doing better.

    I agree, kids are bombarded with so many messages at younger and younger ages.

    You should go out and buy that bag. Even "In Style" magazine says people of any age can do trends as long as they modify. So you shouldn't wear the metallic top. And often I think, if it's tasteful, who cares what we're told to wear? Do it!

  58. Love this post, Theresa. In the very first section I felt like you were almost describing me! Couldn't go to my mum for advice on what to wear, curly hair (I now get it chemically straightened - it's the only way) and impressing guys either.

    I hope your friend is ok these days.

  59. @ Sari, I'd be interested in chemical straightening if it weren't for the expense. I finally figured out how to make my curls look nice, but the last couple of years I've liked it straight.

    I hear my childhood friend is better, thanks.

  60. I so desperately wanted to be myself. I had an older sister who preyed on me being smaller and more demure and bullied me my entire life....she still tries.

    I finally feel like I am who I have wanted to be when I had the guts to tell her enough was enough. Once the toxicity of her bullying, negativity and constant insults was gone, I found out who I truly was.

  61. @ Michaele, that's awful. I'm an older sister, and while I wasn't perfect, I hope I didn't and don't bully my younger sister.

    I'm impressed you were able to stand up for yourself and figure out who you are. Thank you for sharing.