In one of my favorite scenes from the movie “Mean Girls,” Queen Bee Regina George tells protagonist Cady Heron that she’s pretty. Flattered, and a little bit distrusting, Cady simply says “Thank you.” Regina responds: “So you agree? You think you’re really pretty?” Cady is confused at how the seemingly genuine compliment is twisted to make it look like she is a narcissist. It is the first of many warped situations that Cady finds herself in throughout the movie as she tries to fit in with two different groups and abandons her own authentic voice in the process.
Often in my life I’ve felt like Cady Heron — a new girl, bursting with great ideas but often less refined than those who already know the ropes. Perhaps it traces back to my days as a literal new girl (I attended three elementary schools, a junior high and two high schools…. and oh yeah, was home schooled for awhile there too). But I seem to have this tendency to aim high and then freak out when I actually stick a landing. I’ve encountered very few Regina Georges in my life, yet I’m always paranoid that she is waiting just around the corner, ready to sniff out my insecurities and expose me as an amateur.
A few months ago I got an amazing email. It was from a producer at the Huffington Post. She said she had read my piece “What Pregnancy Does to Anorexics” and was interested in having me appear as a guest on host Nancy Redd’s HuffPost Live webcast. The theme was body image issues during pregnancy, and the postpartum months, and the show was scheduled for a few days later. At first I thought I was being scammed. I get a lot of weird emails as a blogger and I thought this one might be a sick, twisted joke and that somehow the emailer would try to scam me out of my credit card number by distracting me with the promise of a webcast spot.
I forwarded the email to my husband and he didn’t seem nearly as paranoid. I said I really should say “no” since it was a bad time of night for our family. He said it was no big deal and he could easily be in charge of the kids for the half hour slot. I said I didn’t have a proper place to broadcast. He threw out a few ideas. I said I didn’t have the webcam lights that all the how-to blogs told me I needed. He said we would move every lamp in the house to the spot of the broadcast and get as close to a professional lighting look as possible.
I said I couldn’t stand the idea of seeing myself on camera and he had no response. There was no easy fix for that issue.
As a blogger, the highest compliment is when another media source asks you for your opinion on a specific subject. This can happen when another blogger mentions a piece you wrote and links back to you, or shares your link via social media. Being asked to talk about something you wrote in a live video platform is a special kind of honor. The exposure a blog can get from a media giant like the Huffington Post is a big deal. Cross linking does not care what you look like on a webcam — it just works.
So I agreed to do the show. I received an email from the spot’s producer telling me she was “super excited” to have me on. I got a similar email from the show’s host, Nancy. I told my husband I felt like they were “the plastics” and I was Cady and they were clearly trying to pull me in just to play some cruel joke on me on the air. He was really lost on the metaphor and also pointed out how strange it was that I would have that sort of reaction. He pointed out the only one trying to sabotage me was me.
I was so nervous in the minutes leading up to the show that I nearly puked. But I pushed through and made a few strong points while on air. I closed my eyes when I “watched” the replay. My husband pointed out that I was looking in the wrong spot when I spoke (even after he coached me to stare AT the webcam, not the other person talking) and I almost had a nervous breakdown at my amateur mistake. I liked what I said on the show, but hated how I looked saying it. I hoped our blog would get a little spike in traffic to make it all worth it.
Host Nancy Redd emailed me afterwards to tell me that she really enjoyed my input and she hoped I would agree to come back on in the future. At first I figured she was just being nice. Then she emailed me to have me back on the very next week. I was on a third time with my husband. When I wrote to Nancy asking for book advice, she called me from California and gave me tips over the phone. I finally started to feel more at ease with the situation and even silly for being so angst-ridden.
Then I went on a fourth time. This particular show had two other incredibly articulate mom bloggers and a sex expert, all with professional lighting. I decided to let my hair just be wavy for the show — a look another one of the other guests was rocking, but it looked much better than mine and had better lighting.
The show was earlier than the others had been and my own lighting was a little bit off. I logged into the webcast and the producer told me I looked a little “yellow” and asked me to move to a different spot. Once I moved every lamp in the house and set up in front of a very bland piece of white wall, I logged back in. She said it looked better, but when I watched the playback it appeared that I was in a prison cell or something. The show started and as I heard Nancy asking the other guests questions, I realized that my mind was blank. The topic was weight loss after pregnancy, prompted by the recent birth of the royal baby.
Before the webcast I had so many points I wanted to make. As I listened to the other women talk and demonstrate their expertise I started to feel very amateurish indeed. I respectfully disagreed with some of the points they were making but was afraid to challenge them. When I mentioned something about women worrying about their weight at “six weeks” postpartum, because that is when sex is usually allowed again, the other moms scoffed at me, saying that no woman should ever feel like she has to have sex at the six week point (which was not my point, but somehow their rebuttal seemed to confirm that it was).
I clammed up and stayed pretty silent for the rest of the show. I logged off and felt bad. I watched a few seconds of the show and shuddered at the professionalism of the others compared to me. I cried a little bit. I felt embarrassed — not so much by the white prison wall, but certainly by not speaking up and holding my own during the show. I had let myself get to myself. The blame for not performing to my potential was all on me.
My suspicions were confirmed when I emailed all three of the other guests and received gracious replies, praising my blog and offering to guest post anytime. The only one who thought I was an amateur was me. The whole experience weighed heavily on mind for several days. Laying in bed a few nights later, I told my husband it all reminded me of my pageant days. He didn’t know me back then and is always down to hear a tale of how I used to compete in pageants (as an adult).
I told him that I always felt cheated when I competed because I knew that I was better than some of the other girls who would place or win. I was more talented, had better answers to questions and was pretty fit too. What I didn’t have was that little extra pageant chip on my shoulder — I had no official coaching and did not know which way to stand properly on the stage when other people were answering questions. I didn’t know which moments to stop being authentic me, and start being something more uniform to everyone else. As a result, when I’m in situations now that are new or intimidating, I struggle letting my authenticity shine through. I clam up and allow someone else to dictate the course of the conversation, idea or webcast. And it bugs me that I do that.
Even as I type all of this, I’m shaking my head at myself. My particular story might be unique, but how often as women (as moms!) do we doubt our own expertise? Why do we shy away from the things that we KNOW we know, and allow ourselves to feel second best to other people who are no better than us? Everything in the background is really secondary to what matters at our core: who we truly are and what we bring to the table as wives, mothers, friends, businesswomen, daughters, sisters and community members.
We should have confidence in our own strengths, despite our circumstances, and know that our authentic voice is what the world really needs to hear from us — not some version of ourselves that we think is safe or neutral. Clearly I struggle at times with that basic truth and I’m guessing others do too. Instead of wasting that energy in the struggle though we should be channeling it into being ourselves, through and through.
Otherwise we are just victims of our own self-doubt, with no one else to blame.
Parsons is a freelance writer who lives with her four children, husband
and the sound of the ocean nearby. Before she was a freelance writer,
she worked in news media in Chicago, Orlando and Shelbyville, Indiana.
Before that, she earned a Creative Writing degree from Ball State
University. Katie is writing a memoir
about the time when she was single and pregnant. She owns a content
creation company and you can contact her by emailing her at
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Tags: HuffPost Live