Sleepless Beauty

I woke up this morning feeling like I’d been slowly smashed by a steam roller. And my face looked it – swollen, puffy and multi-colored. It had been a long night with frequent interruptions to my REM cycle, but there was more to it than that.

On top of the allergic reaction causing itchy welts all over my poor puppy, the week of backyard construction and TV filming, and a weekend full of friends (and booze), I was suffering from a severely punctured ego. An unfortunate interaction earlier in the day had shattered my carefully (and slowly) built confidence and I feared the worst – that I might forever retreat back to my cave of pacifism where I spent so many years simply doing as I was told.

After surviving the confrontation and sucking in any tears that threatened my big girl face for the rest of the day, I pushed forward. I worked out, I helped cook dinner, I even meditated and convinced myself that I had moved on. But, it only took about 15 minutes of relaxing on the couch with Mr. Rathroy for me to lose my shit.

At that moment, I needed an insane amount of positive reinforcement and affection, which of course I opted not to communicate (because sometimes I can be ridiculous). I sat on the couch, watching water levels rise in my eyes and anger levels rise in my brain because he wasn’t fixing it. And we hit meltdown Mach 3. By the time I realized it was going to externalize, it was too late to wrangle. I did my best to compose a sentence as my face squished into ugly cry and my voice disappeared into a squeak.

“Sometimes I’m afraid that you’ll decide you don’t like me anymore.”

Holy abandonment issues, Batman.

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The wounding interaction that I thought I had survived was only burrowing deeper. Like a porcupine quill in my subconscious, it dug all the way down to the center of my insecurities and my only choice now was to pull it out the other side.

Like the superhero he is, Mr. Rathroy sprang into action – genuinely listening and intently comforting. He let all the contents of my bottled up fears spill out as I tugged, painfully at the barb that had punctured the facade of “fine” that I’d created without even realizing it. I traced my fears of imperfection all the way back to the 5th grade when I had lost my homework and received a pink slip warning that nearly killed me. Nearly my entire life, I’ve been convinced that any mis-step, any imperfection, any mistake would render me worthless. And despite intensive investment in healthy and healing practices, I realize now that I may never be rid of that fear.

But, while that evening devolved into sleepless hysterics, the lessons I’m choosing to learn are much more beautiful. I can feel my fear. I feel it ping my heart like a hot needle. Lately, I’ve been choosing to ignore the ping or even tell it to go away. I force it out of my mind and muddle through the task at hand. But, this sleepless night, this Mach 3 meltdown, this confidence crushing confrontation, has reminded me that only I can control how I feel. No one else made me feel bad or made me feel better, not even Mr. Rathroy. That’s my job. When I’m honest with myself and acknowledge my feelings, even my fears, I stand a far better chance of staying stable, even after a jolting experience.

Don’t get me wrong. It is terrifying to face your demons. Why do you think so many people are walking around with them? But, the better you know yourself, the better you can build a happy and healthy life.  And that sounds like a pretty sweet kind of life to me. So, tonight’s blissful sleep will be thanks to my fears being realized and my courage to face them. I always thought that being brave would manifest externally, but the bravest I’ve ever been was when I chose to look inward, and never turn back.

Unavoidable Angst

Ever since my angsty tween years of journaling, I’ve knows that it’s harder for me to write when I’m happy. Contentment is just not as entertaining as awkwardness, anger, or apathy (the miseries of growing up, really). It’s much more interesting to watch Lena Dunham play out the romantic and professional woes of a twenty-something on HBO than it is to follow around a happily married young professional with a healthy savings account.

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Where’s the drama? Where’s the hyperbole of hysteria over the bad dates and binge eating and credit card debt? Where is that black hole that I wished for so long would just open up and swallow me to end the existential suffering? I filled journal after journal with words dowsed in despair over my youthful heartbreaks, self hate, and unrequited love for Nick Carter.

Nick Carter_Backstreet Boys

As I grew up, looking back on those thoughts and experiences became almost embarrassing (who’s not embarrassed by their 14 year old self?), but I could never get rid of the journals. Every time I tried, my fingers just flipped through the worn pages – that familiar angst – and I would end up clutching them even closer. They still live with me. And with Mr. Rathroy, I guess, though he’s too much of a gentleman to admit it if she’s peeked inside any of them…

“The pain returns with such eager delight. So quick to remind you of your expendable existence in another’s heart. Your body, rendered undesirable, wilts. Your mind, proven unnecessary, deteriorates. And your heart, mercilessly rejected, explodes.”

I seriously wrote that when I was a teenager. I mean, yikes.

The words that teenage Kelly wrote, oftentimes in despair, have served so many purposes. They were an outlet for a tortured heart, a creative exercise to mix my tragic words with those of Shakespeare, a voice for a girl that just sought to stay anonymous. But scanning through those words now provides an entirely different perspective – an acknowledgement of what it took to become who I am. Yes, it would be really boring to follow me around with a camera today. I’ll admit that I am entirely too happy to be entertaining. But that angst, that awkward phase, that rebellious streak, that desire to have a black hole open up and swallow you – that’s our common thread. For some of us, those feelings and phases mercifully fade when you graduate high school. For others, it might seem like there’s still no end in sight. But those are shared struggles – something that almost everyone can relate to.

I’m thankful for the Carrie Bradshaws and the Hannah Horvaths and the Liz Lemons because they make it seem not so uncommon to stumble and even be miserable at times along your life path. They give legitimacy to periods in life that most people hide in journals or in the depths of their own hearts. Falling down is how we learn to get back up, and there should be no shame in that, especially when it’s a universal experience.

Fourteen-year-old Kelly couldn’t have known the impact that her words would have in the future. All I wanted at the time was to pour out my feelings and in doing that, I gave myself concrete proof of how far I would go. It’s really easy to forget the pain once it dissipates, but anytime I question my journey, question my progress, or question my writing skills, I can look back on those worn pages, filled with that familiar angst, and know that I’m heading in the right direction.

The Plight of Pretty Girls

Trying to write a blog post in a coffee shop on a rainy Sunday afternoon is a serious test of my focus powers.

Two women are speaking emphatically about something and the only word I keep picking up is, “lesbians.” For some reason, I keep smelling cocktail olives. Like, really overwhelming vinegar and I’m pretty sure my mocha shouldn’t contain either of those ingredients. And espresso machines are really loud.

And finally, two men have been sitting on the comfy coffee house chairs interviewing a series of women. I have no idea what the interview is for, but their body language is fascinating and, if I’m not careful, I get caught staring at them.

Both men are probably in their 30s, dressed casually, and not overwhelmingly attractive or unattractive. And the first woman they interviewed was a twenty-something, smiley, long-haired blonde. I have no idea what they were discussing but, boy were those men leaning into whatever she had to say. Lots of agreement, smiles, and hand gestures and the men were dominating the conversation. As I watched the interaction, I found myself wincing and thinking about how hard it is for attractive women to be taken seriously. I agree with all of the studies (and have seen it happen in real life) stating that attractive people have it easier in life – they tend to succeed more naturally because their looks become an unfair (and hopefully subconscious) advantage. But, having things handed to you because you’re pretty is not the same as being taken seriously. Women can be pretty and smart. Beautiful and boss material. And those two traits shouldn’t influence each other. But when a room full of men deciding someone’s professional fate just smile and turn off their ears, it marginalizes their abilities, their brains, their accomplishments.

I know that the plight of attractive women is about as popular as the argument that young, white males are unfairly pressured to succeed. Poor, beautiful girls. Life is so easy and all you want is to prove yourself with brains in this world. I don’t expect everyone to get it, or care, but watching these coffee shop interviews unfold is just too interesting not to provide commentary.

The next interviewee is equally smiley. She’s using lots of hand gestures and gives no hesitation after the questions. This time, the men are leaned back in their leather chairs. Both with hands on their faces – stroking a goatee or resting their head on their hands – and legs crossed. They smile and talk less than in the previous interview but are taking notes this time while the woman answers their questions. It looks more like an interview and less like a date – and the woman looks less like a high school cheerleader (sorry for the stereotype in a post about how unfair female stereotypes are…).

There’s a third woman in the hot seat now and I’m so preoccupied with large-scale physical biases in society that I can’t watch anymore. Reflecting on my own professional journey, I realize I’ve benefited from unfair advantage. I’m pretty sure I’ve been hired, promoted, and mentored before because I reminded the male decision makers of their daughters. Since before I was a teenager, I learned to play to non-verbal communication and that my smile would work faster than my words (which is disheartening because I sure love words). It’s knowledge that I’ve been working to unlearn as I progress in the workforce and try to let my accomplishments and ambition speak for themselves. A smile should go a long way in this world, but it should go the same length no matter who’s face it’s on.

Things I Want My Kid to Know

With all the new babies in my life, I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking, reading, and talking about parenting. Indeed, I am of the age where the weddings start to dwindle and the baby showers boom and I would be lying if I said I hadn’t caught the I-Want-A-Baby bug.

While Baby Rathroy isn’t exactly on the way (it’s only been 3 months since the wedding, people), all of this baby brain has helped me reflect on being a woman, what I think it might possibly mean to be a mother, and how truly difficult it can be to grow up gracefully in this world (Lord knows graceful was not the path I chose…).

So, I compiled a list. A list that I’m sure will be obsolete by the time I have adolescent children, and may even be way off the mark to people that are parenting right now. But, it’s a list of lessons I’ve learned through tears, heartbreak, cruelty, therapy, and a continual search for self awareness. It’s a list of things that I want my daughter to know, that I hope might help with the tears, heartbreak and cruelty that she’ll encounter in this world.

The sisters and parents that helped me learn so many lessons.

The sisters and parents that helped me learn so many lessons.

1. It’s not your job to cater to other people. Not to a boy, not to your teachers, not even to me. Your job is to be yourself, your best self, and to provide that to the world.

2. Sexy is a state of mind, not a body type.

3. Being outspoken, opinionated and decisive are leadership skills. That makes you an extrovert, not a bitch. Though there is a thin line. Use those skills to be a leader, not a dictator. (And if you’re an introvert, that’s okay too, but you’ll have to talk to your father about what that’s like.)

4. No one in this world will ever complete you. It is up to you to make and keep your life full. Whatever someone else brings into your life (be it a friend, a mentor, a partner) is a wonderful bonus.

5. Your body belongs to you. No one else gets to determine what happens to it.

6. Your mind belongs to you. No one else gets to determine what happens to it.

7. The world does not owe you anything. It will provide for many of your needs, but if you want something, you work for it.

8. Drama addiction is real and it’s capable of draining the happiness from your life.

9. Be proud of yourself. Don’t wait for someone else to pat you on the back. Acknowledge your own accomplishments. Because if you know that you’re awesome, then it won’t matter if someone else thinks differently.

10. Education will create incredible opportunity in your life. Learn everything. I don’t care if it’s a Ph.D. in astrophysics or vocational clown school. If something interests you, gain as much knowledge about it as possible.

11. Sometimes death isn’t the end. It’s complicated, and everyone has their own ideas on the subject. Find your beliefs and let them help you through grief, because there will be grief. But it doesn’t have to be the end.

It’s far from a comprehensive list, and I’m screwed if we have all boys, but it’s a start to hopefully building a confident, courageous, and curious daughter. And even if this list is moot for one reason or another, it’s nice to see that positive lessons really can be created, even in the face of tears, heartbreak, and cruelty.

Wedding Dress be Damned!

During my first wedding dress fitting, the consultant asked if my weight typically fluctuates. No. It doesn’t. I’ve been within the same 2.5 pounds for the last 10 years.

When they initially took my measurements to order the dress, I was told that my hips measured 1 inch into a dress size that is normally 3 sizes too big for me. Despite the fact that it felt like an open hand slap across my bridal face, I told myself that wedding dress sizes are weird, that they were the professionals.

Fine, order it in that size.

Six months later, as they laced the dress onto me and let go, it couldn’t stay up on its own.  As I attempted to hide my satisfied smirk (turns out I don’t wear three sizes up after all), the seamstress got busy pinning and bunching and pinning and bunching until she had reconstructed most of the dress.

During the process, the consultant made the inquiry about my typical weight fluctuations. Turns out, the dress had to be taken in so much that it couldn’t be let back out.

Translation: If you gain an ounce between now and your wedding day, this is going to be really uncomfortable.

No problem. My weight doesn’t fluctuate. Take it in!

As my second fitting approaches, so does our wedding. We are T minus 3.5 weeks and I’m starting to get a little loopy if we’re being honest here. I’ve still been making meal plans and doing my best to feed my 6’3” fiancé, but in the last week or so I’ve found myself saying things like, “Can we just order a pizza instead?” or “Oooh, Willies! Let’s get milkshakes!” or, “I’m still tired. I don’t want to go to bootcamp this morning.”

On its own, none of those things would be abnormal or alarming. But the fact that each of them has occurred within the same week (the week leading up to my second “don’t be fat or your dress won’t lace up” fitting) has me a little concerned. The other aspects of our life and wedding planning seem to be getting more overwhelming, so the idea of escaping into a pile of ice cream or melted cheese or an extra hour of sleep has been more appealing than normal.

I’m not usually a highly groomed kind of gal. Don’t get me wrong, I can use mascara and wash my hair just fine, but makeup trends and manicures have never been my thing. Unfortunately, the idea of being at an altar in front of every person I know has spooked me into the beauty world in an all inclusive way. I’ve had more beauty appointment trials than I care to count. And that’s nothing compared to the week-of-wedding appointments! We’re talking manicures, pedicures, waxing, spray tanning, hair trims and eyelash tinting to name a few. I’m starting to feel a little bit like plastic Bridal Barbie.

Bridal Barbie

The point is, I’m being tanned and trimmed until about 2 hours before my wedding, and the idea of it is getting exhausting. I know they’re all elective procedures, but it’s nearly impossible to escape the idea of being my “most beautiful” on my wedding day. Like I’m not beautiful enough on any other day? It’s a defeating thought if you let it get to you.

So you can imagine that the last thing I want to say to myself right now is, “You’d better eat a stalk of celery instead or someone won’t fit into a certain special dress on Friday.”

Therefore, in an effort to save my sanity and to continue enjoying the build up to my wedding day, I made brownies. And I ate two big ones. And I am going to enjoy that decision and the chocolatey goodness without guilt or worry. I’ve gone on pizza binges before. I’ve missed bootcamp before. And no, my weight does not fluctuate.

Wedding dress be damned! I’ll be beautiful on my wedding day no matter what. Even if you are a little snug…

Mirror Mirror

I’ve somehow managed to maintain a pretty static weight my entire adult life despite the nutritional stumbles along the way. In college, I wore my girl scout uniform from the 3rd grade for Halloween complete with jumper, blouse and vest (Yes, I fell into the slutty costume trap for a brief period of time) and I could probably still fit into it today. So why is it that now, at 27 years old, it’s almost impossible for me to look in the mirror and not criticize my body?

I don’t remember worrying about my weight or anything when I was younger. I don’t think the term “body image” existed in my vocabulary as a teenager. Instead, I obsessed about more important things like the new Backstreet Boys music video on TRL or how to get out of doing PE that day. Now, six months after I’ve made the conscious choice to work on my physical fitness as an adult, it’s like I can’t allow myself to be pleased with results until I can’t see imperfections anymore.

When I first started the 5am workouts, I could do 4 push-ups. Now I can do 30. That’s a serious accomplishment, but instead of high fives and heel clicks in the air, I pinch and poke at my love handles and yell at Russ for eating ice cream in front of me when I told him I didn’t want any. A pair of my work pants ripped across the backside the other day and instead of thinking about the 7,000 lunges I’ve done every week for the last 6 months and that maybe I have a new buff booty, or the fact that the jeans were about 7 years old and might have just worn themselves out, I immediately accused my “fat ass.” I said it to Russ with a sarcastically pouty face, but there was a part of me that believed it.

Despite the workouts, the quinoa based meal plans, and the exponential increase in push-ups, I legitimately think that my body is not as “nice” as it should be. How is it that I am working on my health and fitness now more than ever before and yet I’m more unhappy with my body than I’ve ever been?

I have a theory: It’s like learning about a new car that you’ve never seen before and then all of a sudden it seems to be the only car that’s on the road – you see them everywhere and it’s like they were mass manufactured and put out on the road overnight just to mess with you. Body image is like that for me. I never cared about my percentage of body fat until it was measured and now fat is the only thing I can see on myself. Once the concept of body image was pointed out to me, it became a part of my perceptual world that suddenly popped up everywhere.

Now that I’m noticing it more, I’ve realized that the world bombards me with the idea that how I look determines my value. It’s devastating. If the inability to look like a photoshoped magazine cover leads a professional, physically fit 27 year old to frown at herself in the mirror, imagine what it does to kids! A perceptual world filled with negativity and impossibility rarely leads to functional, happy adults.

I started working out and eating well because it made me feel good. I was learning and growing and creating a healthy lifestyle and somehow I lost that direction in the pursuit of an imaginary perfection that the rest of the world created. Fitness is a never ending quest. I can always be faster, stronger, thinner, better. And while self-motivation is a great tool that drives us to better ourselves and reach for more, a compulsion to attain an undefined perfection is destructive.

I should be focusing on the progress and the intention and not allow myself to spiral into some kind of crazy fitness addiction that only fuels my self-loathing. I will always strive for improvement – mentally, physically, emotionally – but a perfection constructed by others will never fit onto me.

Redefine perfection to describe yourself.

Who I am is perfect. And the only betterment that I strive for should spring from self-love, not self-loathing. Self love will always lead to healthy behaviors and the more I accept myself, the better I will care for myself and that gives me a warm fuzzy feeling that a stupid mirror never could.

Plus, now I have a bunch of amazing engagement photos to look at anytime I need a pick-me-up!

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