“I want you to know me. I’m not hiding.”

During my first year of college I took some Acting classes with Professor “B.” The best way to describe him was “clumsy at first glance.” Very tall with hair that had a mind of it’s own, a wrinkled shirt tucked into a belt that had missed a pants loop, his glasses sitting crooked in the middle of his too large nose, I remember thinking when I first saw him, “Oh boy, this is going to be interesting. How will I ever take this guy seriously?” Man, was I wrong.

From the first sentence of his first lecture he commanded his audience’s attention. We followed every word. Speaking forcefully yet encouragingly, something about him made you want to give his words your utter consideration. And as he addressed the class from his mark on stage, something in his attitude toward us said that he knew we’d want to listen, that we’d want to hear everything he had to say. He exuded confidence. And interestingly after that first incorrect impression I’d had there never again seemed anything ungainly about him. Yes, his hair remained mop-ish throughout the semester, his attire unkempt, the goofy glasses always crooked on his face, but there was no way that Professor “B” could be considered anything but a compelling, commanding presence after you had seen his demeanor in front of the class.

There was something about him, an ease and comfort in his skin, an air of confidence, a way he had of inviting you in to a place beyond the world of outside appearances, which took the word “awkward” absolutely out of the equation if describing him. He knew who he was in such a way that gave what anyone else thought about him nowhere to go.

Of course if you had told me thirty years ago how much this teacher would affect me I would have laughed and shrugged it off. Never could I have imagined how learning to be vulnerable in a theater filled with peers would have affected my life today, but suffice it to say it was the beginning of the journey to who I have become.

Back in the first class or twos I believed that the performance” was about applause, about whether or not “they” clapped, whether or not “they” liked it. Later I learned, and it may seem a stretch for an actor I know for an actress at heart, that the applause doesn’t really matter. What matters is whether or not my “performances” are genuine. Whether or not I am absolutely being myself in the midst of them.

Over several months Professor “B” worked with each one of us, drawing us out. He asked us to trust a process as we emoted in different situations. Always motivating and seemingly tireless, he worked until each student had experienced some slight shift in their ability during a scene. He was able to transform his students, many of whom went on to work in the industry professionally, into convincing performers.

Back then, even though my outward appearance was gregarious and I never shied away from a script, I was deeply afraid and very shy. And although I had studied acting in New York City and spent time on commercial auditions and in plays before college, inwardly I was always driven by fear. I consistently worried, underneath any false bravado I showed, about how I looked to others and how my lines were received by the audience (whether on stage or off). Deep down I sensed that this self involved fear was holding me back, but I never imagined that others sensed it too. Until one day, when Professor “B” “called me on it” with an exercise that included only two lines of script:

“I want you to know me.”
“I’m not hiding.”

My task was to come up on stage and “act as if” for the audience. To recite the lines to the theater audience of my peers and convince them, after him of course, that I meant what I was saying. To show with my body language, demeanor, energy, the expression on my face and in my eyes, that “I was not hiding.”

A simple assignment right? At least it would seem so and that’s why at first I couldn’t fathom why he pressed me so hard on it. That is until I was standing on the stage in the moment after I “got it.”

“I want you to know me, I’m not hiding,” I said. “There I did it,” I thought.
“No you don’t,” he said immediately.
I looked at him confused. “What do you mean Professor B?”
“I’m not convinced that you do ‘want us to know you.’ You’re hiding and we can feel it. Say it again and try to mean it.”
Thrown slightly off guard and even somewhat off balance by his response, I remember shifting my stance defensively and trying again.
“I want you to know me, I’m not hiding,”

“Nope,” he said, gesturing for me to do it again.

Over and over I recited the line as over and over he remained unconvinced. Frustrated beyond measure, I remember sweating profusely and being confused with the effort I was expending, knowing that the beads of perspiration had nothing to do with the hot stage lights. And after every recitation of this one simple line he’d look to the audience below and ask, “What do you think, does she? Does she want us to know her?” And each time the collective response was “No.”

I tried everything I could think of to be convincing during this, the college Acting exercise that I will never forget. Head tilted then straight. Hands on hips then off. Shoulders back then forward. Chin up then down. I couldn’t figure out why he was being so hard on me. “Why wasn’t he believing me? “ “Why weren’t they believing me?”

“Look,” he said, “I am not letting you off this stage until you convince me, do you understand? And for the record, this is going to be worth 10% of your final grade.” “WTF,” I thought as he continued. “Tell me your line and make me feel it as you are saying it. I wouldn’t be pressing you on this unless I knew you had it in you. Make me feel it. Convince the class that you mean it!”

And in that moment I remember hating him to my core, but at the same time being oddly grateful for him. I felt pushed beyond a place I wanted to be pushed to, but somehow I knew it was because he believed in me and was merely asking me to do the same.

So, I tried again as this awareness kicked in. And I remember being conscious of a place somewhere down inside of me, very deep inside of me as I realized what he was trying to show me. It was not about the words. It was never about the words but about what lived behind them. I knew that he was looking at me and seeing potential and asking me to see it myself. He was asking me to see that it would be OK to let the audience in. To allow them to see through the fear to my willing spirit, to my core of emotion, to the place of surety with my lines and with myself that he believed lived in there somewhere. I also became aware somehow that this exercise would have value that was worth quite a bit more than 10% of a college grade.

I shifted my weight again, then bent over and flung my hair back and forth a few times to regroup a bit. I stood up, forgetting about the audience and thinking “Professor Who,” and for an instant I focused quietly (sweating even worse by now) to feel my lines before saying them. I reached inside to a place I couldn’t remember being able to reach before or in fact even knowing was there before as I said:

“I want you to know me, I’m not hiding,” and tiny tears trickled down my face.

And it seemed like an eternity before he began to gently clap and I remembered his presence. An eternity before I realized that everyone else was clapping too and that they were on their feet giving me a standing ovation.

And in that instant, for the first time in my life I knew what it felt like to not be hiding, even though I never before knew I had been. I stood raw and unafraid and absolutely comfortable in my skin. It was amazing. And I knew it was just the beginning. I knew that there would be many more moments just like this one, whether on or off a stage. And now, years later, gratefully and gracefully I can say there have been.
“I want you to know me, I’m not hiding.”
And that, I have learned, is what it is all about.

“We are so accustomed to disguise ourselves to others that in the end we become disguised to ourselves.” François de la Rochefoucauld

Think about this quote as it relates to you. As it relates to your children, your spouse, your nieces or nephews, to your students, your neighbors, your friends. Really think about it. Then consider how many are wearing masks of “enough” out there in the world and how hard they are trying to be seen as what they think “we” want them to be. So much so that they may be losing sight of what they already are, deep inside.

I’ve been caught in the mask trap over the years, no doubt, and have watched people I love get caught in it too:“How do I need to look today to be enough to you?” “Should I curl or straighten my hair?” “What do I have to wear to be accepted?” “How much cleavage has to be out to be sexy?” “Do I look okay?” “I can’t go out of the house because I have a zit!” “I don’t look fat do I?” “Are you sure I don’t look FAT?” This last often comes from two of my nieces who happen to be gorgeous and the fact that they are size 0-2 has nothing to do with what makes them gorgeous!

I just don’t “get” how things have gotten so twisted, how plastic surgery became the norm instead of the exception and when the pressure to conform became this great. I wonder sometimes if I’m the only one who thinks so. If not, I really think it’s time to start screaming louder than the media ladies! Sometimes I feel like everyone is screaming already emotionally, but no one is listening.

Is anyone else worried about how much emphasis there is to be perfect today on our teenagers? Actually not just on our teenagers but on all of us? Aren’t you afraid of the desperate need for everyone to cover up any potential “flaw” and disguise uncertainty about looks by tweaking towards what society tells them is enough, is pretty?

I was hit between the eyes with these thoughts last night while watching the news and saw one story on the Miss USA pageant that discussed how this pageant had caused a stir for two reasons.

1. A beautiful entrant is now being touted a heroine for being “brave enough” to be seen in a bikini as a size four (4). No joke. The news reporters congratulated her for being courageous enough to be “au natural” and represent an “average” American woman. As I watched the segment I wanted to cry at the absurdity of what we are as a society. Is this what we have come to? Are we really making a young American woman out to be heroic because she is stepping out onto the stage as “Oh My God,” a size 4? Folks, if this is the case, we’re screwed!

The media creating a story around this contestant feels scary. Is this really helping the average girl out there feel better? What is the message if size 4 is called taking a risk? In the segment clips one after the other long legged, long haired full breasted contestant, without an ounce of body fat among them, appeared on the screen. This thumbnail representation may look like a few young American women I know, but is not the norm or the end all be all for beauty.

In actuality the average American woman today is 5’4” with a waistline of well over 30.” Her dress size is between a 12 and a 14, give or take a little as I averaged these numbers from the web, but hopefully you get my drift.

So, to take a size 4 pageant entrant and focus on her bravery for daring to step out on stage is, in my opinion, total insanity. I ask the media: “Just who was that piece for?” Was it for the REAL average American that would kill to look like that size 4? Was it for your ratings? Who is it supposed to reach or to help? Who are we doing these shows for folks? Seriously. We watch them. Our sisters watch them. Our young daughters and step daughters, granddaughters, nieces and cousins watch them and they all dream of looking like “that” girl.

They wonder what they can do to wake up one day that comfortable in their skin or with a body like that. They wonder how come they can’t get there even though they try. They dislike their large bones or small breasts, thick thighs or thin lips and they don’t stop criticizing themselves long enough to realize that they already are beautiful. They already are perfect and special and unique and unlike any other person in the world because of their exact face or shape or body and their exact special gifts.

If only we could start (even just with little baby steps) to get back to center ladies. The center that knows that we are all lovely in our own way. The center that invites us to embrace that unique beauty and stop wearing the cookie cutter disguises that make us all mirror images of what society has told us is beautiful. If only women would stop buying into the bullshit out there that it seems everyone is buying into, we might actually stand still long enough to see our own and then others’ beauty. If not, we are all set up to fail.

Because, what happens is that older women who are buying in today have daughters who are paying close attention. And these daughters become moms down the road to daughters who will also pay attention. All of these daughters and mothers who are looking for validation around their beauty, their uniqueness, their originality will be screaming, but so loud that nobody can hear them. They are begging to find a way to stand still and graceful and feel enough in the midst of what society tells them is their “not enough-ness,” but don’t even know it because there doesn’t seem to be anyone to guide them.

And it is not just about the ladies although that is my focus with this blog. There are also fathers and sons and brothers affected, either with their own struggles or the struggles around watching their sisters or girlfriends, mothers or wives not believe in their beauty.

How about if we start now? Right here, right now? By not buying in anymore. By standing up and using our voice. By saying that we already are beautiful. We are graceful. We are enough. We are special and unique. Just the way we are! I am and so are you.

If not, as I said, we are screwed. No question. When will there be a pageant with truly “real” and “average” women? Or better yet, when will there be no pageant? When will we say “Hell, no, we don’t need one! We don’t need a crown to tell us we are winners?”

Which brings me to the Second reason for the stir created by the Miss USA pageant:

2. The winner of this years Miss USA pageant is a beautiful woman named Miss Nevada. At least that was where she entered from. As it turns out she had entered the Miss California pageant three times but lost every time. Now I am not really interested in where she is “really” from. What I am interested in is, why it is so important for someone to be labeled “Miss Somebody” that she has to try four times from two different states?

How about being “Miss Yourself?” “Miss Ourselves?” Our very lovely, very original, totally unique selves? When will there be a prize for holding on to that? When will our society figure out that we are all so busy re-creating ourselves to be what will be noticed as beautiful that we lose sight of what beautiful actually is?

The crown of love and talent and self acceptance is already ours for the taking. The gift that lives deep within us and allows us to be free to stand without disguises is real beauty. The sacred loveliness that is each one of us that needs no nipping, no tucking, no starving ourselves to fit into Barbie sized clothes, no brightening or whitening or tanning salons, no colored contact lenses or hair straightening, no acrylic nails with little butterflies on them, no killer heels that hurt like hell when we walk in them.

Are you getting the message yet? Why did Miss Nevada, now Miss USA, formerly vying to be Miss California feel the need to enter a contest under different states four different times? Because she lost 3 times does that take away from her win? Will her crown really make a difference? Interestingly, when asked what the capitol of Nevada is during an interview the other day she had no idea and she is the states pageant representative! So what does it all mean?

When will we stop believing the lies society is telling us? When will we actually begin to stand still in our God given bodies without augmentation or reduction of any kind? At what point can Miss USA be considered beautiful just by being herself and without changing homes in order to lessen the competition. When is our society going to get their heads out of their asses (their non perfect, slightly cellulited asses) and wake up?

When will we be able to accept and embrace what God has given us? When? I hope and pray that each and every one of you begin right now to believe what I believe. That you are now and always will be enough, actually more than enough, no matter what size you wear, the color of your eyes, your height or how much you weigh. I hope you believe that there is a place for every one of you on the stage of loveliness. The stage that is your life and that sadly doesn’t have a dress rehearsal.

Believe in your place and go out and get it. Be it. Own it. Own who you are and how gorgeous you are right there exactly as you are! Absafrigginlutely GORGEOUS! Go be yourself and honor the woman of Grace, dignity and honor that you already are. While you are at it, teach other people how to honor that in you too and tell them to keep their crown because as James Baldwin wrote, “ours has already been bought and paid for, all we have to do is wear it.”

With love xoxoxo