When I was in the 5th grade, my “best friend” started talking about me behind my back. She gave me the code name of Saniflush so that she could talk about me to my other friends in front of me, and I wouldn’t know. She was so clever. Because I had no idea she was talking about me. Not.
This girl and I were attached at the hip and then very suddenly, one day, she was ignoring me and talking to our mutual friend, and they only talked about Saniflush then looked at me and laughed. It was stupid, petty 5th grade mean girl stuff. Saniflush smelled funny. She was fat. She said the dumbest things. She liked the grossest boy.
I died a million 5th grade deaths of embarrassment, humiliation, and shame. And I started believing that I smelled funny, was fat, said dumb things, and that the boy I liked was, in fact, gross. Most of all, I believed that no one would like me anymore if I stopped being friends with this name-calling mean girl. As a 36 year-old, I can tell you that none of that was true. I was a thin, brilliant young woman who smelled perfectly normal and liked a very cute boy, thankyouverymuch. And people liked me. Also, my name has absolutely no toilet connotations whatsoever.
But that experience. That experience that most of us had, planted doubts and lies in my head, and even though I’m pretty sure I confronted her and said something like, “I know you’re talking about me and that’s bogue,” it shaped my friendships. It shaped all of our friendships, didn’t it?
Because I grew up believing that when I left the room, the other girls talked about how fat and stupid and gross I was. So I put on layers to protect myself. I did my best to have the perfect clothes (IOU sweatshirts and guess jeans), the perfect 90s hair… I used the right words. “Totally rad.” I tried my best to become the girl that no one could make fun of, no one could talk badly about behind her back. I tried. I tried so hard.
We all did. You remember it. Thing is, trying so hard to be perfect comes at a price. And someone else was always perfecter than me, and that made me jealous and hateful.
She’s so skinny.
She’s so pretty.
She’s so much smarter, taller, better than I am.
She’s so much more creative, organized, _________ than I am. Ugh. I hate her.
Fast-forward to our mid-thirties, and we are still doing it. Have you seen her house?! It’s like that all the time! She always looks perfect! I hate her. We are still protecting ourselves from being the Saniflushes of the world, covering up our imperfections, hiding the truth of our flaws from each other. Posting only our best moments on Facebook. Bragging about our kids’ accomplishments on Twitter. I do it too. I’m not pointing fingers.
But if we are going to hate each other, we might as well hate each other for an actual reason, not because she has a cuter house, haircut, butt, husband than I do. Because how could we hate an illusion? Isn’t that what all those layers of perfect are? The clothes, the hair, the makeup, the house, the whatever. They are all an illusion that says, “I have my stuff together.”
Let’s be real. Even the people we really think have their stuff together don’t. So, maybe instead of out-perfecting each other, maybe we could try to out-real each other. Right? Let it all hang out. What if we tell the truth with our clothes and our hair and our homes and our friends and our words? What if we just tell the truth?
The days of pretending are over. They oppressed our mothers and our mothers’ mothers, but they will not oppress us.
We will be real and honest. We will wear our imperfections like badges of honor in the sisterhood of struggle because life is hard and humans are stupid and showing your weakness is brave.
We are a generation of women who value connection over power. Strength over control. Truth over illusion. Courage and compassion over appearance.
There is no place for you anymore, perfection. You can take your finely pressed pantsuit and go home. Unless.