I too am done with being likable

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Photo credit: Flickr user JDHancock

When I was a little girl, I took my cues from the closest person to me — my mother. She was unapologetically large, both in personality and size. She made no qualms about getting what she wanted, whether it was a perfect medium-rare steak (she’d send back a steak as many times as it took to get it right), or a goal she was trying to accomplish. Nobody got in her way. She was fierce, loud, strong-willed and she didn’t take no for an answer. Good luck to anyone who tried to bully her.

She raised me to stick up for myself in the same way. I made myself heard. Loudly. I was a no-holds-barred know-it-all who dominated at sports, read three grades above my age and felt absolutely no qualms about leading in groups. I was bossy. I was precocious. I was strong. I was curious. I was convinced I could do anything: sing, dance, invent, act, practice law, write novels, create art. I wanted to master it all.

Alone in my basement, I created science experiments, breaking into my brother’s big kid chemistry set to pilfer supplies. I checked out books at the library about building tree forts as well as sewing and baking. I aced Tech Ed in school and beat the boys at gym. I was our school band’s second chair flutist and chosen to read my essay at elementary school graduation.

In middle school, the bullying started.  And so, too, did my self-awareness. I began to notice how many people looked at my mother with contempt. I observed their posture, and the looks on their faces when they spoke to her. They hated her. Even when she was being nice (which she mostly was), she seemed to rub people the wrong way. Especially men. It always seemed to me that most men couldn’t stand my mother. After all, she had a triple whammy of “unlikable” traits: she was fat, outspoken and female.

The woman who was once my hero, the woman who I once painstakingly modeled myself after started to seem a lot less aspirational. I didn’t want to be hated. I wanted to be liked — desperately so.

My mother would tell me to ignore the bullies; “They’re just jealous!” she would say, “you can’t hold yourself back to appease others!” But I was hearing a different, much stronger message: I was annoying. I was a show off. I was too much. I needed to tone myself down.

I eagerly sought friendship and approval. After getting straight A’s my entire life, I realized in high school that getting straight A’s doesn’t make you prom queen. It makes you a threat. It makes you full of yourself. It makes you stand out in all the wrong ways. To be a woman who makes herself large, I learned, was a grave mistake.

I didn’t want to be alone at the top of the class. I wanted to make myself easy to digest. And so began my long descent into mediocrity.

I morphed myself into whoever was around. I used to be very bad at playing these roles, which at first made me even more annoying than my overachiever self. But I got much better as I went along.

In high school, I was a basketball playing hip-hop head, who’d fervently trash any other girl to look cool around her guy friends.

In college, I became a rugby playing, toga-wearing, beer funneling, “easy going” party girl.

In my young twenties, I shaped myself into the quintessential cool girl, complete with Jennifer Lawrence-like schtick: “who me?! I just happen to be hot, funny, whip-smart AND self-deprecating enough that I present no threat.” I spent an ungodly amount of energy being approachable and pretending not to care about things.

In law school, I decided to be the comic relief slacker, despite receiving a scholarship for having one of the highest LSAT scores in my year. I skipped class, went out drinking, and blatantly and boldly told my professors I didn’t do the reading when called upon.

People liked me. Of course they liked me. I was giving them exactly what they wanted: a diluted version of myself. I did everything a woman should do to be liked: I apologized profusely for taking up space and trimmed myself back until I was a shell of a human being — an easy pill to swallow.

Since my mother’s death, I’ve become more “myself” than I’ve been in decades. I no longer work so hard to keep up a facade. My priorities have shifted seismically. These days, it feels foolish to waste my energy molding myself to please people who couldn’t care less about me in the long run. I now try to focus on the people who matter; who like me both in spite of and because of my flaws. I know my bold personality is not for everyone. I know I can be polarizing. I always have been, despite bending myself to the point of exhaustion to be liked. About half of the people I grew up with still hate my guts to this day. I’m learning to be ok with that.

Yet as much progress as I make, resisting the pull of being liked is still a struggle. Social media isn’t exactly a bastion of authenticity. We all want those “likes”; that validation that we matter. Even in my writing, I find myself pulling back from certain topics and thinking more about my audience than what I’d really like to write. I am constantly vacillating between making my voice heard and diminishing myself to convenience others.

But I am sick of playing by the rules. I am sick of worrying about what people will think, or say behind my back. I am sick of holding back my opinions and refraining from going after what I want. I am sick of making myself small.

Nobody likes a know-it-all. I know, because my mother was one. Sure, she could be frustratingly obstinate, and she definitely needed to learn to apologize and admit when she was wrong. Yet despite her flaws, I can’t help but admire that she never dumbed herself down or shrunk herself for anyone. Their opinions be damned.

I think my mother had it right. I, too, am done with being likable.

26 thoughts on “I too am done with being likable

  1. I’d like to like this more than once, and your mom sounds like a hella cool woman. Mine never stopped trying to take up space, and I can’t help but be a little jealous that you had a model in your mom. I often wonder if mine would have come into her own “fuck all y’all” phase, if she had been with us longer.

    We’re here, we’re smart as shit and have opinions, we’re not decorative items, get used to it.

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  3. Both you and your mom are strong for realizing you don’t need to be “liked” by everyone. I love my mom, but she always cared about what other people thought. Perhaps too much. I remember when I was very little and when I burped in public, my mom would tell me to be “lady-like.”

    I want to say that I never cared what people thought of me, but that’s not true. I think caring about what the important people think matters more than just the general populace.

    Cool banjo, by the way.

    • Ahh… the “lady-like” trap. How dare a child have bodily functions, right?! I am so glad we’re finally having a cultural dialogue about how damaging those expectations are!

      PS — thanks! 🙂

  4. So…what you’re saying is…we all DO become our parents? I have to admit, I do care what people think. So mostly, I try to stay away from people. I’m a better “me” when alone, with my hermit crab. Have you read that they now believe that we can have memories of our ancestors…through our DNA? Maybe we just really ARE our parents.

  5. Your post has hit a nerve with me in a few ways…so thank you! I know exactly what you mean about holding back on your writing when considering your audience. Having been guilty of this as well, I would say to you (and myself) people would not follow your blog if they didn’t want to hear what you have to say. We only get one chance at life…might as well give the best of who we are Authentically.

    • I’m so glad you related to my essay. 🙂 And yes, I completely agree! I’m trying to push out my inner critic and be more authentic to myself and my voice. Here’s to keeping it real in 2016!

  6. I can relate with the “descent into mediocrity”. Similarly, I attempted to mimic others. Fortunately, I halted that line of thinking before it was too late. Still, it is pervasive. Nevertheless, it is interesting… the influence our lineage and parents have on their offspring.
    Thanks for sharing. 🙂

    • Thank you for reading and commenting! I think I got a bit addicted to the mimicking. There was a strange satisfaction in pulling off my rouse and being a chameleon. I can see now in retrospect how empty that validation was, but as I was chasing it… oh, what a high!

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  10. Hi,i think in todaya’s society we all believe w eshould fit into a certain criteria to be beautiful,smart,famous,talented and successful when all we need to be is who we are.I love your post!Its brutally honest!.

  11. Hi, well i just think everybody of us has wasted a part of his life so to be “inside”. the descent into mediocrity? nothing more true, probably something often uneluttable. but what at this point? still keeping yourself into a tight, suffocating cocoon of conveniences and Group-rules? this is pure self-flatting. from a graduated-non conventional-cooler not a rebellion act just like a Roar-beast so to blow it out? Cheers!

  12. I love this post. I had bullying from schoolmates, but the bullying was stronger at home, where my sisters insisted I shut up and stop being so “fill in the blank”. I’m doing a series about this in my blog, starting in a couple days, and your post comes to me at a perfect time.

    I’m glad I found it. Thanks for this post. It’s just perfect.

  13. I am a proud feminist. There is a way to voice opinions firmly and assertively without having to be brass, rude, loud, sarcastic, etc. It’s a challenge to be a woman and get your point across without screaming over others sometimes, but it can be done. It just takes thought, patience, and practice. This is not for anyone else, but ourselves. Assertion and class can co-exist, and they should. Unfortunately, we do need to rely on others in this life to get things done at times, and while being “likable” is not necessary, earning respect is. It sounds as if your mother was extreme enough to make you turn and take the complete opposite path in your younger years. The lesson to be learned here is that there is a balance – otherwise, generations of acting in the opposite extreme will continue to repeat themselves. While I agree with most sentiments of this article, we should not forget that there is a balance between the two extremes (caring what others think to the point of not being yourself, and not caring about others to the point of saying/doing whatever you want regardless of how bad you may make others feel with complete lack of awareness as to who you may be talking to – such as another strong woman perhaps).

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