Taming Our Inner Ugly

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I just finished Jessica Sims' (aka Jessica Clare) latest Midnight Liaisons novel, Wanted: Wild Things (I wonder: is there someone whose job it is to sit in a room and think up silly book titles?  Must be). I really enjoy the books in this series--light, funny, and quick to read, they feel like a frothy confection one might consume at the end of a heavy meal. But underneath Ms. Clare's meringue peaks are some fairly deep themes, if one cares to look for them. Kind of like the prize at the bottom of the Cracker Jack box. In this latest offering, about a faery Changling and her primordial lover (as in large hairy male who shape shifts into a saber tooth cat), Clare explores the concept of self-hatred and its effect on relationships and the psyche. As always in the world of fantasy, the circumstances can be manipulated to amplify whichever reality the author wants to explore. In this case, the female protagonist turns into a hideous monster with ugly scales and horns any time she feels attraction to a man and he touches her in any way. Tell me you can't relate to that in a metaphorical way?

I certainly can. The whole idea that I immediately began to feel unworthy and unattractive (hey, that could be the name of MaryJanice Davidson's next book!) when in the company of a guy I liked is very familiar territory. My first thoughts after meeting someone (back when I was dating many moons ago) were all about what was wrong with me. And if I actually thought about what was right with me, it mostly had to do with appealing to a man's more base needs--the ones that could be satisfied by any woman with a pulse.

Where do these attack thoughts come from?  Why do so many of us turn into ugly monsters, at least in our heads, and then behave accordingly by either running away as fast as we can or behaving in a manner that pushes the guy right out the door?  What's up with that?  And I know it's not just me. So many of us do that.

But not all of us, certainly. I was talking to a woman just the other day who seemed not to suffer at all from this self-inflicted wound. She was large and in charge, weighing in at a minimum of 350 and she clearly loved herself, loved her shape and told me in no uncertain terms that she was hotter than the steamy Maryland day we were both "enjoying."  She had some health concerns about her weight, but absolutely no issues about her self-image or inherent attractiveness. I remember thinking to myself that her mother did a much better job than mine in giving her daughter self-confidence. Then again, most mothers did a better job in pretty much all ways than mine, but that is a subject for another blog post.

Why do some women look in the mirror and feel content--no matter what is looking back at them--and others see only our flaws?  I know I've written about this before, but it takes up a lot of my head space, not to mention my time in attending to my self-perceived deficiencies. Why else do we wear makeup and color our hair and shave our legs and stuff our feet into hideously uncomfortable shoes to make our calf muscles look more shapely and our midriffs look more streamlined?  Why do we spend time looking for the perfect skirt or dress that does wonders for our derrières?  Because we feel like we need to look better than we do without those activities and accouterments.

So this whole undermining phenomenon is largely self-imposed. We can't seem to help our transformation into something twisted and unattractive when confronted by a man we might find interesting because we can't seem to get out of our own way. In the novel that sparked the trip down this particular rabbit hole, Ryder, the Changeling protagonist, works to control her inner ugly creature, largely to no avail. Again, a metaphor for real life.

So, what to do about this whole issue?  In Ryder's case, true love trumps her feelings of insecurity and inadequacy. And that is certainly a recipe for success for the rest of us. I know that meeting and marrying my amazing husband has done wonders for my self-esteem and self-confidence. But I still wonder sometimes how he saw through the mountains of crap that low self-esteem had piled onto my actual personality down to who I really was so that he could fall in love with me. Clearly, he had some sort of X-Ray vision, able to cut through my ineffective defenses to see beneath them to my soul and recognize the match with his. And I thank my lucky stars every day that he was able to do this, because in keeping with my usual MO, I did my level best to push him away when we first got together. But he persevered and stuck around.

But what happens if we don't meet a man of such far-sightedness and dedication?  I think the answer, as always, is that we need to learn to save ourselves and either just say "no, thank you, I'm not listening" to our negative voices, or ignore them and act as if they don't exist. Either way, we need to run away from the negativity, not from possible partners.

Like Ryder, we need to come to terms with our inner beasts and embrace the totality of who were are so we can get on with our lives as fully realized humans. Even if we're not supernatural, we are all superstars and we need remember that.