My grandma, instead of actually getting to know her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren as the complex people we are, has simplified the process by assigning us all a uniform personality. Unfortunately, I was labeled the smart one, also, the fat one*. My innate ability to do terribly in school, paired with my obvious desire to be sickly all the goram time, has left little for her to brag about when it comes to my intellect. Everyone knows that education is synonymous with intelligence,**and when it comes to education, I am most assuredly a failure.
With an idiot for a grandchild, what the hell is she supposed to talk about? I don't have a husband, or a boyfriend, or a child, or a job... I dread running into people I know, because I don't want to have to answer the dreaded, "So, what have you ben up to?" question. I understand her difficulty in making me marketable, but isn't the point of family that they love you even when you are an epic failure?
Love is not conditional upon success, or even competence, but an intangible lashing that ties us to the people who drag us down, and pull us up. A single rope, that, once cut, untied, or unraveled, releases us from the connection in both directions. My family doesn't love, we feign familiarity. Each of us too busy struggling to break into the multi-dimensional world we inhabit outside of our time together, or trying to live up to the caricature of ourselves, that we don't really see one another. I'm not sure that we will ever fully overcome our assigned traits, as they are integral to our family structure.
I have only recently started to notice that I am not the only one who struggles with the labels placed on us. After I lost some weight, and also my smarts (apparently) my grandma had to assign me a new personality, as I was so far from the expected path that even she could no longer see me in those roles. So, I became the irresponsible one. In reality, I was the hocked off one, as I became aware of her game. I am the only one in my family who will, in front of everyone, stand up to her. So, for many years, I thought I was the only one who had a problem, the only one she picked at. With newly minted awareness, I was able to see the insecurity she helped to foster in my cousin, and a replay of my childhood as she scolded and distanced herself from my other cousin's daughter, because she is fat.
In talking to my cousin, M, about her college plans, I found her to be very insecure about her ability to do well. M has always been the thin, pretty, perfectionist one. She may be those things, but she is also smart, and I envy her diligence. Of all of us, she is the most equipped to do well in an educational environment, but she kept repeating her reservations about being smart enough. While I'm sure there are other reasons for her insecurities, I am fairly certain that some of it is because of what she is supposed to be, and, in part, what I am supposed to be. If I, the smart one, could not finish college in a reasonable amount of time, then how could she, the pretty one, finish with a high enough GPA to get into a competitive professional school? As we all know, pretty is the opposite of smart when it comes to broad generalization.
Watching someone who seems to have it together falter is both disheartening and comforting. While not as enjoyable as the boorish delight of shcadenfreude, there is comfort in knowing the fragility and limitations of others, especially loved ones. It provides a necessary reminder that to be human is to be imperfect. But, it is heartbreaking to watch the creeping doubt of unfounded insecurity.
I wish I could make it better for M, that I could make her see herself from someone else's eyes, but I can't even do that for myself.
My cousin's daughter, A, is in for a similar fate, if not worse. She is quite a bit like I was at her age, at least superficially: creative, active, fascinated by animals, and fat. I was a very active child, but was always overweight, partially because I was very muscular. A seems to have the same issues, and while her body is able to do skillful and energetic things, it's appearance is unacceptable to a prejudiced society. She has been put on a diet, told there are foods she cannot have, and that her body is disgusting; and I want so badly to be able to tell her that the problem is not with her body, but with the people who cannot see it properly. I still struggle with negative body image, and do not want her to go through that too, but have not worked up the courage to defend her, because defending her means defending myself.
The attitudes of the people around us shape our personalities and expectations more than we, or they, realize. I am horrified to think of the negative thoughts I have planted in the minds of others, and would want someone to tell me to, "Shut up and stop being so freakin' mean," the next time I do so. I like to think that others feel the same, and that the comments are not always intended to be cruel, yet I rarely defend myself in those situations. My insecurity fosters further insecurity. I really need to stop it before it consumes me, so I guess I'll have to be brave and politely ask people to stop trampling my feelings. Or, I could continue my journey to becoming a complete recluse, it would probably be easier, and require less confrontation.
* The aside to this point will be another post. My journey to fat acceptance is rather long, and ongoing.
** Uh, this will have to be another post, too. I am currently struggling to free myself from this ridiculous mindset.