I've lived in one or two neighborhoods where women set a pretty high bar for beauty and outward appearance. It's an unwritten, unspoken expectation that we need to look a certain way, or that the homes need to be "just so," or that the people in them need to be well dressed or well mannered or well... Well, they need to be practically perfect in every way.
Well, I'm not a trophy wife. My husband works really hard at his job and I work really hard at home full time, but sometimes I intentionally dress like a hobo because I want to go against the grain.;) It takes a lot of courage to run around in Costco workout gear when surrounded by the latest in LuluLemon. I don't have fake eyelashes, I don't get my hair done every three months, I paint my own toenails, I shave my legs at least twice a week during the summer. ;) I don't have time or money for all that other stuff.
Recently I'm realizing that the battle between Barbie and Raggedy Ann is unnecessary. I've learned a lot in these eleven years of living in HOA neighborhoods. I've learned that beneath every false, fake facade is a person with a heart. I've learned that when I meet somebody who is beautiful and smart and kind and everything, that she might have a hidden wart that she never talks about. She might be shy but it comes across as aloof.
One day many years ago, I was the new girl at the park in a beautiful cookie cutter neighborhood. There was a lovely view, the weather was great with lots of happy children making noise on the playground. Along came a cheerful young mommy with gorgeous blonde hair and two kids, and she was wearing turquoise high heels to a playdate. Let's switch to the present tense. My first thought might be: "Who does that?" But if I look a bit deeper, I might realize she has great fashion sense. Or I might begin to see that she's out of her element here because she used to work full time, but now isn't so sure about the trade she made, from business executive to no-glamour mommy. She might be intimidated by the other mommies at the park, the ones who already have friends to talk to, and who packed healthy snacks for everybody to munch on when she grabbed a bunch of Cheetos on her way out the door. Or she might still have one foot in the door of the work world and actually need to look nice for a lunch later on that day. Whatever the reason for the high heels at the park, did I really need to judge her? Just because I wore comfortable sandals didn't mean that my shoes were better or worse. Our different shoes meant that our stories were completely different. But all those years ago, I couldn't see that. They say that when we compare ourselves to others, one of two things happens: we come out bitter or better. Either way we lose. I don't want to be bitter because I think everybody around me has it all together when I'm a hot mess. And I don't want to be arrogant because I came out on top of the invisible comparison. Pride is a slippery slope.
The truth is, we're all running around with a bit of pretense. We're all trying to share our 'highlight reels' on social media. We all have 'deleted scenes' that we keep quiet, in the interest of loyalty to family or reluctance to share sorrow. We all have the desire to put our best foot forward.
Dorothy Corkville Briggs shares this great truth in her book Celebrate Your Self, "Facades can become so real that some of us lose touch with our real selves...The longer we play roles, the harder it is to let them go...Shedding the pretend layer is scary. It means revealing who you're afraid you are...Masks and genuine intimacy are incompatible. Masking requires enormous energy and guardedness." (p. 118-120)
How do you survive a cookie cutter neighborhood? Well, you smile. Yay for a chance to see somebody's face when we cross paths outside! Next, you can wave to people, and learn their names. Be the first to show weakness or admit to being human. Once you open up about your own struggles, the other people are less intimidated and more likely to be real with you. How do I teach my beautiful daughter to see behind the mask? I teach her to look for the sparkle in somebody's eyes, or to notice the smile crinkles at the corners of the eye. How do I teach her that it's okay to be real and okay to be imperfect? I teach her that it's a lot more fun to serve other people than to sit here worrying about myself all day.