An Obvious Miscalculation

512px-Guy_Rose_-_The_Green_Mirror

Guy Rose [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

“You’re so beautiful,” he says, with a sweet smile.
I love that smile. It’s like a special secret.
I smile back, and I think I even say thank you. This time.

This, the smile back, is honest and so is the appreciation. But…

“You’re so beautiful,” he has said. The same way he has said, contentedly, “I love to hold your hand.” The same voice and the same gentleness, and I know he’s not lying, but it has taken a lot of effort on my part to keep myself from arguing.

“You’re so beautiful,” he would say.
And I would say, “No, I’m not.”
And inside, I would say, “This is ridiculous. Has he not seen the research?!”
And up against the three words from the man I love, who also loves me, is decades of statistical data explaining why, specifically, I am not beautiful. And images of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of models who are our society’s definition of beautiful. And inside me, the certainty that if I stood next to any one of these women, I would be arrested for my ugliness. No, not arrested, probably. Just poofed out of existence.

Sometimes, I would give him specific reasons why he was wrong. “I’m fat…, My hair…, My skin…, Look at what I’m wearing.”

I don’t know when the data collection even started. Was it from the beginning? Or did I hold off until I was a pre-teen? My friend Liz had a subscription to Seventeen, which I think was where I first got the idea that I should be on a diet. No wait… My first diet was before that. When I was fourteen, I think. I got a lot of praise for that diet.

That was when I learned to talk to other girls about myself.
“I’m having a bad hair day!”
“Ugh, I’m so fat, I shouldn’t have eaten that yogurt.”
They would echo back.
“Can you see my zit?”
“My butt looks so big in these jeans.”
Acceptance and understanding. We hate ourselves and the way we look. Or we know we are supposed to. We are all on the same page. Carry on.

But that goes away when girls grow up, right?

I was twenty-six when I stopped measuring my right to exist (to have a voice, to be seen, to believe I was allowed to be considered) based on anything but my looks. That I know specifically. That was the year my first husband’s cancer spread. That was the year I pulled all-nighters measuring out pain medications, emptying catheter bags, checking IV sites. And that was the year I saw someone I love suffer and die. I didn’t think about being beautiful once that year. I learned how unimportant it really was.

But

I still live in a society based on beauty and thinness, and those judgments creep back in. I have to remind myself.

When I was twenty-seven, I met my friend Tricia.
I tried to talk to her the way I talked to other females.
“Ugh, I look so terrible.”
And she just blinked at me. “Garnett,” (That’s what she calls me), “be nice to yourself.”
I didn’t know what to do with that, but it felt like the inkling of some kind of scary freedom. “Oh, we don’t hate ourselves here?” I thought. And still when I remember that day, my heart feels the same weird-good way.

Later, she told me this story a friend of hers told her. She, the friend, was in law school and was talking to a bunch of other female students.
“You know,” she said, “the only thing straight women ever talk about is their weight.”
“Oh, I KNOW!” said the only straight woman in the group. “I have gained five pounds this term!”

I think about that story all the time. I try to make it remind me to talk to my straight women friends about things other than hating our looks. I let it scold me when I fail. Societally, that is our language.

Now I am edging my way toward forty-three.
I’m old enough to feel silly when I want to argue with the man I love about whether or not I am, objectively, beautiful.
I’m smart enough not to judge myself when insecurities creep in, because there are a whole lot of years of bad lessons to unlearn.
And just recently, I’m wise enough and compassionate enough toward myself to smile and say thank you.
Because, this is the man who loves me most in the world, the one who has seen me cry and rage and laugh ‘til I snort
The man who has watched me watch our little boy with eyes so full of love they overflow with it
And, just maybe, this guy knows what he’s talking about when he says I’m beautiful.

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I Don’t Think We Can Be Friends

“You’ve changed,” I said, wiping tears from my eyes.

I’ve seen it coming for a while, but I can no longer deny it. The time has come to break up.

In the beginning, things were so good. Fun, exciting, interesting. It was like the world was opening up to me. There were so many connections. Of course it didn’t stay like that. What could?

There was a long time where I was complacent and everything was a little dull. But now it’s moved beyond boring. Now things are dark. I feel bad a lot, and it took me a long time to realize why.

“I can’t do this anymore.” I said.

No answer. Just the cold apathy I’d expect from a computer program.

Which is, of course, all Facebook is.

It’s just a computer program. And yes, I absolutely feel silly for letting it affect me so much. But, I don’t really think I’m alone.

It’s a computer program that allows me to connect with friends and family and co-workers and causes. It is effective because so many people are addicted to it, like I am. And it is addictive because it’s effective.

Through it, I’ve reconnected with aunts, uncles, cousins and friends — people I would literally never speak with otherwise. I’ve gained support and comfort. I’ve met writers, and learned about publishing, blogging and marketing. I’ve found a safe space to discuss topics that are important to me. And I have met some incredible people I would not have met if not for Facebook. I have laughed, tons. And I have cried a lot, in a good way.

But lately, it’s kind of become a bad-news machine. An ugly news-factory. A bad-feeling proliferator.

Being a cold machine, it’s always had its problems. Like how every year on May 10th, people who have been prompted to do so, wish my friend Kevin a happy birthday. They ask why they haven’t heard from him in a while and express hopes that he is well. I hope he’s well, too, of course, wherever he is. But he’s been dead for over three years. I know this, because we have real life friends in common. But Kevin was reclusive and had many internet-only friends. I would post on his wall to tell folks the sad news. But Kevin’s quirky, and I know he’d get a kick out of knowing people were still trying to quasi-chat with him three years gone.

To be honest, though, this is the kind of stuff you’d expect from AI. It’s doing the best it can, and it makes mistakes. The other stuff is more intentional. These are the “you might also be interested in” algorithms. They offer me options based on something a friend shared that I liked. Did you like the heartwarming tale of a cute puppy overcoming adversity? You might ALSO like this story about a mutilated dog.

Fuck you, Facebook! No I wouldn’t. And you know what? If I did, that is NOT something your clever little algorithms should be encouraging. Holy hell.

It was one of these stories — the “You might also be interested in,” ones — that had me on the sofa crying and sick to my stomach. I’m not going to tell you specifics. I will only say that it involved a kid, and there is nobody on this planet who is better for knowing about it.

Maybe if the sharing of it was honorable in some way. Maybe if it could have helped her or others like her. But it was too late to help her. The perpetrator is awaiting trial. This is not a fucking cautionary tale. It is an abomination. And it was suggested to me as a piece of light reading. Here, Jen. Here’s something you might want to check out between a friend’s Time-hop and 30 second video of a recipe using canned dough and cheese sticks. Just a quick little real-life horror story. A little proof that pure evil exists. Come on. Click it. If you do, we get money.

See? That sensational story was trending and viral and important. Important, not to tell her story, but to help someone’s bottom line. Someone made money off of her tragedy.

I know. I know. That’s what news is. That is how things have always been. A sensational story used to sell newspapers and ads, and now it sells “Likes.” For whatever they’re worth.

Here’s the thing, though. I didn’t join Facebook for the news. I joined because I wanted to see pictures of my cousins’ kids. I wanted to say hi to my childhood friend. I wanted to hear about my coworkers’ vacations. I never wanted Facebook to be my news source. I have always had very strict rules about where I get my news, particularly during election years: The Onion, and the Daily Show. That’s it. That’s more than enough.

Since Facebook added “Trending” (a “feature” you can’t turn off), I know way too much about everything.

Did you hear about ___? Yup
Did you know ___ ? Yeah
Hey, what do you know about ____? Every DAMN thing there is to know. Including how other people feel about it.

I don’t need this. More than not needing it, it’s harming me.

I need the world to keep some secrets from me.

For something to “trend,” there has to be a new secret, a different kind of shock. Our psyches need to be cut deep enough to make an impression in the scar tissue that keeps forming over the most recent wounds.

I know, as well, that my emotional exhaustion or even scarring isn’t Facebook’s fault. It didn’t make me join, or visit so often, or click on things I shouldn’t click on. That’s me and my addictive nature. That’s me being part of the “trend.”

What? Like I think the people who make a story go viral are vastly different from me? Yeah right. I may not like the same things everyone likes, but I like the same things a lot of people like.

I can’t even be mad at Facebook. The reason I’ve come to rely on it so much as a source of entertainment and connection is because so much good has come out of it for me. Through it, I’ve had constant updates about a family member’s health struggles. I’ve seen my nephew grow up. I’ve met my writing tribe. And I’ve made a dear and cherished friend who brightens my life daily. I am grateful.

So what to do now? Can we still be friends, FB? Can I check in with you now and again, and ask about your mom? Or do we need a clean break? Can I even quit you if I want to? If I do, which of us gets to keep the CDs?