Happy Birthday to me. Happy 50th (gulp) birthday to me.
Even as I begin to compose this piece that has been swirling around within my head for weeks, probably all of my lifetime -- I'm still not completely convinced that I will toss it out into the world for all to see... but here goes. Why announce 50? Why now, you could certainly get away with shaving a good five years off that number, that inner voice taunts me in an attempt to dissuade me from going any further. Well for one thing, you can't be 29 forever. It's time to get real.
Since I first boarded a plane bound for Paris to embark upon a modeling career, unaccompanied, barely 16 years old and living in a world pre-Internet and constant connectivity -- I have been scrambling to recollect the pieces of myself -- the true authentic pieces and parts of me. Tracing the breadcrumbs left by a young bright-eyed girl all of those years ago. It was in the fashion industry that a complex relationship to self evolved, and yet it was also the springboard for becoming a global citizen, igniting a thirst for life beyond my suburban childhood backyard. Within that world of pre-digital retouching of everything -- the dance of "not enough" was born -- not thin enough, not pretty enough, not good enough... and certainly not brave enough to not listen to this self-destructive, limiting voice. And these mental gymnastics were being conducted on set, under lights, scrutinized by teams of industry folk. My adolescence, a time presumably wrought with uncertainty in the most normal of conditions, took this squirm-worthy rite of passage up a few solid notches by virtue of these extraordinary circumstances.
There was no tour guide for this journey, pointing me in any direction. Like most young people in my generation, I simply carried on, piecemeal-ing the roadmap together throughout the years. But in reality -- I was sleepwalking. Thrust into a fast-paced world, virtually a child, there were great expectations placed upon me to jump ahead -- to become this older, wiser, more sophisticated version of me. No learning curve, it was simply Pass Go, do not collect $200. It was here, in this moment, that the great imposter emerged. I didn't know I had a choice. I didn't know I could say "NO." I didn't know, it was ok to not know.
For most of my life, on some level there has been this inner negotiation driven by an insatiable yearning to be more - to assuage that "not enough" voice within my head. Taught by others to dance as fast as I could to navigate my way through the crazy of my world, my dance card was full. Sucking my stomach in, pushing my shoulders back, wearing black clothes to appear thinner and more stylish, applying makeup to cover-up, exuding confidence when I was actually trembling with uncertainty within, all in an effort to pretend to be this version of myself, all the while missing the mark completely.
The world I operated within was fixated upon all things exterior. I was young and beautiful, successful and traveling the world, but I was also miserable, disconnected and lonely. I didn't understand how to connect the dots, how to recognize the distinct interconnectedness of all aspects of my life to the whole.
This isn't an expose on the fashion industry, nor is it a denial that a model wins the lottery per se, inheriting a marketable physical container. However, it is within this exterior oriented-world where we also learned to be brutal to ourselves. Models don't look in the mirror and see beautiful anymore than any other woman does (and I'd venture to say even less). And even if we see "good enough" when we glance at a reflection of ourselves -- I believe we can do better. Collectively as women, we need to commit to seeing the beauty in ourselves, first in the mirror - releasing the approval of the outside world. This is a muscle that needs to be flexed.
I can only speak of my own experience and of those around me during my 15-year career, but clearly I have hope for the future of young models and of all young women. The messages we absorb as adolescents are imbedded within us and carried throughout our lives. Those tenets become the breeding ground for future relationships and decisions. We need to get clear about this and wake up. We have a responsibility to ourselves to mentor young women and to awaken them to their fullest potential. That said, in many ways I think the youth of today are more savvy. They have access to unlimited information and in the case of young models, they are beginning to understand how to become their own brands.
There was a time, if I was feeling a little out of shape, I could literally take a run around the block and feel tip top, everything falling back in place. The reality now is that no matter how many times I run around the block, my body is what it is, and it isn't returning to that younger version of itself (that one I didn't revere when I had it). My stomach is no longer a washboard -- but it was a cocoon that harbored a baby 16 years ago, an act of divine grace. When I look at it now, that is what I see, that is what I feel -- that is what I would exchange for nothing.
Upon arrival in Paris, my modeling agent introduced me to the infamous "thigh test," which would become the bane of my existence for many years to come. Simply put - if you stood with your legs together and they touched, the alarm bells were set off -- the message: lose weight and fast, we don't care how you do it. I couldn't Google, "how to lose weight in a healthy way." Instead, I learned to stand slightly protruding my derriere, successfully creating a bit more space between my thighs. Thus engendered the great imposter and decades of disempowering practices.
I have been coloring my hair for so long, I actually don't really know what my true hair color is. Right before a lucrative job in NYC when I first started modeling, my agent sent me to have "highlights" put in my hair at one of the snazzy Madison Avenue salons. It has been foils and magical concoctions ever since. My body is a bit rounder and softer. There are fine lines and faint dark spots on my face, a few greys popping up on my head and the hooded eyes that I built a 15-year modeling career upon, are beginning to roll over my eyelashes. The exterior still matters to me -- a solid vestige of vanity remains, but for me it's less about how others perceive me. This is my self-care -- I feel good in my own skin when I'm attending to all aspects of my life. When I exercise -- I feel better and more centered all around. When I purchase a lavish, delicious-smelling face cream, my skin smiles. When I eat organic food and drink expensive green juices, I feel inspired to take care of me.
The bottom line: It's all perfectly imperfect and some days life feels like a juggling act on a balance beam. I work hard, drink wine, love large, drop the proverbial "F" bomb in frustration, cry, rant, meditate, delight in nature, and pursue my passion every day. It took me a long time to find my way back here, but I have arrived. Yes there have been some bumps and bruises along the way, a few battle scars for sure. But I have deactivated many self-defeating theories. I'm no longer waiting for Prince Charming to save me, to make my dreams come true, to solve the problems of my world. No, this Princess is her own badass goddess tapping into her divine feminine -- awakening to her true calling and ready to help others do the same.
Are you ready to activate your inner goddess? She's waiting.
BODY-MIND-SOULFUL LIST TO SELF:
• Don't miss the ride. Don't pick yourself apart, criticizing your body -- one day you will look back and think, "I'd kill to have that skin / body again etc."
• Listen to "your" inner voice. A simple litmus test works in any scenario: does this feel good? Is this a "hell yes?"
• Follow your heart. Within you is a unique purpose and passion, no matter how deeply buried. Get digging. Activate it.
• Do what you love. Don't settle in relationships, in your career, in life in general -- go for big. Know what lights your fire and makes your heart pound - do that!
• Life is a juggling act. Think of yourself as a whimsical circus performer, be well rounded. You can be driven and make time to play. Laugh, work, love, dream, drink wine, indulge, stretch, have fun. REPEAT.
• Don't fixate on the past. Deep breath, let it go. The past is the past and it's looking at your ass. Extract what you can and move on. Lighten your load sister.
• You are enough... so much more than enough!
Instead of living in the yesterdays, trying to squeeze into the jeans of the past -- I'm embracing what is now -- this is the new 50. Happy Birthday!