Wandering Through Nothingness

A Little Something from Molly Barker

The Naked Face Project: Getting Real and the Pink Elephant in the Room, March 17

on March 17, 2012

Several posts ago, I wrote about the awkwardness (which sometimes turns into shame) women begin to feel around that critical age of adolescence.  My daughter is going through that time now.  I try to keep our house as open as possible…and I know for a fact that she tells me everything.  Yes…everything…and while I may not like or am frightened by what she shares with me…the only way we can work through the fear, the frustrations, the anxiety, we BOTH feel, is to get it out, talk about it, get real.

When I started this project, there was a yucky feeling in my gut that accompanied the liberation I knew I would feel in getting it out.  I couldn’t have told you what it was…but yesterday after speaking to a group of 7th graders…I think I know what is is.

I do feel that it is important for me to clarify the entire context of this conversation.  If you’ve seen the movie “the Help” then you know my upbringing.  I was born in the South in 1960.  I lived in an middle upper income neighborhood. I was an accomplished student, athlete and person.  I lettered in four sports, was the first female president of the student government at my high school and won the senior of the year award, went to college and majored with a degree in Chemistry.   Despite my attempts to prove  (I wonder who I was really trying to prove this to) I was a strong empowered young woman, I still felt valued primarily for my appearance.   I was a dubutante, in 1978, joined a sorority in 1979 and partied my way through college.  In 1982, I moved to Atlanta, without knowing a single soul and began my career as a teacher.  Fell madly in love with the handsome Biology teacher…followed him to Charleston while he went to med school, moved back to Charlotte when my heart was aching…and so the story goes.

1982.  My boyfriend took this photo.

I had virtually no female friends.

When I started Girls on the Run, I had no idea how amazing women-friends could be.  I had never really had any.

When I was in sixth grade, my best friend  developed breasts. I didn’t and never have, frankly. Not much of them, anyway. The attention I had previously received on the playground from the boys, began to wane (from my perspective)…at least in comparison to the attention my friend was getting. Popping bras was the activity of the hour and because I wasn’t wearing one…I was rarely chased, chosen, “liked.”

That's me on the right.  Fifth grade.

Now leap ahead seven years.  I worked at a summer camp on the coast of North Carolina.  That summer I started running, worked in the sun, sailed everyday.  Tanned, toned and with a new hue of golden hair, I returned to college.  Suddenly the attention I had longed for, came to me like I had never known.  I wasn’t invisible anymore…not at all.  The talk was everywhere that “Molly had finally grown into her body” and questions were asked, “Where did Molly go?  You are so pretty now.”

In 1971, sixth grade, I was invisible.  I wanted to like my friend, but the truth was (and thanks to the comments from my 7th grade friends yesterday, who just unabashedly threw this conversation into the ring) a tension between the two of us arose.  We drifted apart.  Playing “girl” came to her much faster than me and it’s like the two of us were living in two very different worlds…and because I suddenly felt invisible, like any little girl just trying to make sense of it all, I blamed my good friend…for caving…for giving into “being popular.”  I blamed her, rather than our culture, for my feeling less than, invisible, unloved.  As if she was intentionally pushing me away.  And when you are 11 and feeling “yucky” the easiest way to relieve yourself of all that unexplained angst…of not feeling loved, liked or accepted, you speak unkindly of what you think is to blame…and in this case it was my good friend.

The year after my summer camp experience, my social life in college went from absolute zero to richter scale 10…and if you know anything about the richter scale…that isn’t a ten fold increase, it’s exponential.  And while I was receiving the attention I had always wanted, I still felt invisible.  The strong, intelligent, empowered, girl who could run fast, out talk you on any political debate, speak of esoteric philosophies and converse on William Faulkner’s works of Southern Literature wasn’t of interest…or at least not in the world in which I currently lived…or perceived as the world I was in.

I had only a handful of girlfriends who really knew me and some of the others…well, I think they may have said really mean things, gossipped about my apparent “social escapades” and generally minimized who I was in their secret talk and social circles.  It hurt…a lot.

This kind of circular, never-ending, never being okay starts in 7th grade.  Maybe even earlier.  Yesterday I could literally feel the air in the room change, when we got the big Pink Elephant out into the middle of the room.  This unspoken desire to love our sisters and “be as one” with our gender…something I’ve longed for, prayed for, dreamed of…simply can’t happen until we are willing to admit that somewhere underneath all of the combined strength of our wisdom, are these competing forces that pit us against each other.

The spotlight for women on the world’s stage…is so  small (women make up 51 percent of the population but only 11 percent of elected officials) we all clamor even just to get our toe in it…and when one of our sisters is fully exposed in the spotlight, we nudge her out by harshly judging her.

I supposed I should position this whole conversation, speaking solely for myself and reword this entire document with the word “I” instead of “we”, but I think if we want to get anywhere…as a gender…as an empowered group…we’ve got to get honest about our fears of being invisible…unheard…un-valuable and take a really hard look at how we perpetuate this culture of separation.

I know I’m not alone. The temptation to hit the link to a story on Jessica Simpson’s latest :weight conversation” or Demi Moore’s current “mental status” is not only strong, but so easy to access.  Skipping over the “Housewives of….” series where women are pitted, one against the other, is difficult.  Putting away the pop-culture magazines that question whether Sarah Palin has breast implants or Hilary Clinton looks old and haggard is tough…I mean this stuff is everywhere!

But talking to my 7th grade friends…I look into their eyes and they look into mine and I realize that the only difference between the playground they play on and the playground I play on…is our age.  We really all are the same…wanting to be heard, valuable and loved.

I realize that the only way to shift this culture rooted in appearance, competition, harsh judgment of one another, reality shows, advertising gone haywire and our anger…yes anger and fear…that I believe started as early as 7th grade… is to realize we are all valuable, worthy and important to society…every last one of us…me, you, Hilary Clinton, my good friend, my daughter, Sarah Palin, Demi Moore, Lindsay Lohan, Snookie, my mom, the girls I serve …we are all human, just trying to figure it out, brave in the attempt and worthy for simply being here.

It’s going to be hard, but for Chloe who is a great runner, Savannah who is an amazing artist and Sarah who loves to write…I’m going to do my best to put aside anything–magazines, television, music–that continues to pit women against each other and shift the spotlight onto things that elevate them…my little sisters, our sisters…each other and ourselves…

My sixth grade friend…was an amazing young girl.  She had a sense of humor that would light up any room, could write a creative story like nobody’s business and really helped me through some tough times…she was a good friend and important to me…

How does this post hit you…what feelings does it provoke?  Let me know.  If you don’t want to post it here…email me at mollybarker1960@gmail.com


13 responses to “The Naked Face Project: Getting Real and the Pink Elephant in the Room, March 17

  1. Jen Rohde says:

    As a mom of 4 small children, 2 boys and 2 girls, I am so keenly aware of the years to come and all that each of them will be forced to endure in terms of growing pains. I do feel, however, that my boys will have a certain experience, and my special needs daughter will have another experience and my littlest girl, who is now 4 and 1000% unstoppable spirit will have, yet another, experience. My 4 year old, honestly, worries me the most because I want to bottle up her joy, her wiggle in the step, her rugged body (like her deceased grampie’s and my own, muscle legs which have caused me so much shame) and her bright eyes that pop and dance when looking at what the Leprechaun has done … I want to bottle it all up and give it all back to her when she hits those years … those years that I fear will come when she will doubt her joy, stop wiggling or galloping or skipping just b/c it is fun, when she will become self conscious about her strong, strong, oh, so naturally strong –generations of strong –biceps, legs and trunk that propel her high in her jumps and fast along the grass. How can I stop the slow hiss of that joy, bliss and essence escaping from the balloon of her soul???? Sometimes, on my long runs or during a race, I have a mantra that I repeat to myself “Remember the 5th grade Jenny who knew …” because, there once was a 5th grader (or maybe it’s 3rd grade now??) in all of us who, at one point, KNEW that she was strong, perfect and capable of ANYTHING. Making sure we don’t lose this pure essence in our girls … that’s my commitment to my own daughter and to Girls on the Run.

  2. Angie says:

    I feel so much of what you are saying. I work in the political arena in Washington, DC. I used to work on Capitol Hill and now am a consultant. Female legislators are legendary for mostly being tougher bosses than men and being harder on their female employees than men. It’s the idea that they had to fight and claw their way to the top, so why should they make it easier on their employees? They also seem to not want to show any type of female “weakness.”. A woman I know was a high ranking advisor to a congresswoman when she had her first child. She put the child in a day care center close to her office so that she could nurse at lunch. About the time the baby was 6 months old, the congresswoman started asking “do you have to do that again?” when she went to nurse the baby at lunch. I read something this week that is compelling about women competing against each other. A woman wrote about how she sizes up ever woman she meets within seconds determining whether that woman is smaller or bigger, older or younger, prettier or uglier, etc than she is. That internal dialog dictates whether she has a chance of becoming friends with that woman. I think many, if not most of us, do the same thing because we have been programmed to do so. Why can’t we support each other as women instead of constantly being in competition?

    I’m hoping that my 8 year old daughter can grow up with a more collaborative attitude with her friends and future colleagues.

  3. nicole neal says:

    So honest and amazing , you really got this right

  4. Just me says:

    Perfect. This almost made me cry. The paragraph about drifting apart from your friend in sixth grade.. the exact same thing happened to me. And I blamed her and I blamed her new friends and boyfriend and I was depressed and I hated myself and I hated what I thought she’d done to me. And about 6 years later, she became a Christian and we suddenly started running into each other a lot more and suddenly everything could be so real between us, and now we get along great. I had come to terms with the friendship ending a while before, but I had figured the cause was simply that we were hitting puberty & growing into different people whose lives weren’t so compatible any more. And I still think that’s a big part of it but this whole societal aspect of it is so true and something I genuinely never even considered until now…which I stupid because I feel like I do know how important that is. But I guess it’s harder to apply to your own life sometimes. So thank you for opening my eyes up to that.

    And, well, the rest of it after that I relate a lot to too. I have friends and I definitely have much more self-esteem than the 11, 12, 13.. 17, year old me did, but I have to WORK to feel like I fit properly. And this week especially I’ve been feeling lonely & invisible..so this post came at a really good time for me. Thank you.

    • That’s what I love about the work I do. At Girls on the Run, girls don’t have to work to fit in…They just do. Now wouldn’t it be awesome if we could move that over to the big playground of life?

      I discovered, for me anyway, that when I stopped and really looked at my life, even in those “yucky” times” i was ALSO doing good things…kind to so many…trying my best…growing…changing…There is such an ebb and flow…to life.

      Thanks for dropping by.

  5. kristin says:

    we are all valuable, worthy and important to society…

    So true. We can make a difference to someone somewhere. No matter how small or big.

  6. Ann Washburn says:

    I just read about your blog on ABCNews.com.

    The most beautiful woman in the world was Mother Theresa. Hers was an inner beauty that shone out so brightly that she needed no cosmetics to tell herself that she was beautiful. She was touched by God, and that made her beautiful.

    Very beautiful on the outside women sometimes hide a very ugly inside, and all the makeup in the world can’t hide that ugliness.

    I am a Christian woman who wears a head scarf and dresses very modestly. I see no need to try to make myself beautiful, because God already thinks I am beautiful.

  7. Melissa says:

    Wow… This one really hit home. I remember being on the “Frances” side of the equation and feeling so lonely and hating my body for daring to develop before everyone else’s body did. The teasing from the girls who were supposed to be my friends resulted in me putting a barrier between me and my girlfriends, which I kept up for years to come. It is only recently that I have been able to let my guard down and truly develop relationships with my girlfriends. I credit girls on the run for giving me an opportunity to realize what amazing women and girls are out there in the world. It has been a mirror for me to reflect on my own life. It has also helped me be more accepting of myself, my friends and other women I encounter out in the world. I would love to see more women be able to unite in sisterhood and celebration. I applaud you for putting to words that which is so hard for most of us to identify or talk about. It has been fun watching you evolve through this project and i am thankful that you are sharing so openly with all of us!

    • Melissa…I’ll admit, though, I’m excited to be done soon and get down to the task at hand. The climate for girls, while better certainly for those who have gone through GOTR…is still quite toxic and I’m prepared to give the rest of my life to at least trying to make it better. Thank you SO much for being a part of GOTR and helping shift the world…a few degrees to positive.

  8. Gianna says:

    Molly, I am a college student and have just recently started to read your blog. I also read Caitlin’s (HTP) and have been following on both of your journeys through the Naked Face Project! Have you heard of the film MissRepresentation? I believe it’s new, but my college just recently hosted a viewing of it on campus and it was absolutely amazing – it challenges the pink elephant in the room! The film speaks to almost everything you just brought up above… how women are portrayed in the media, how we are barely represented in politics, how we are pinned against other women, etc… It embodies a lot of the ideas that you have been discussing in relation to the Naked Face Project as well. Check out http://www.missrepresentation.org/ to see where they might be showing another screening near you, or you can request a screening I believe. Anyway, thank you for your writing and for your honesty!

    • Guess what girl? I HAVE seen it and it has absolutely rocked my world. A group here is hosting a screening of it right where I live and Girls on the Run is the beneficiary. I’m thrilled. I’m also thrilled to meet “you.” If you ever make it to Charlotte, reach out.

      Molly B.

      • Gianna says:

        That’s awesome. So glad to hear it. It rocked my world too. I go to school in Baltimore, but will definitely reach out if I’m in Charlotte. Thank you for what you do… you are truly inspiring!

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