Thursday, September 4, 2014
The Leading Ladies of My Life
I remember one morning when I was around nine, sitting on the lid of a hamper in my mom's bathroom watching her get ready for work. "Do you ever, sometimes watch a movie," I asked her, "and want to be like the person in the movie?" She thought about it. "No, not really," she answered. That's the moment I knew I was weird and was probably the only one that did this. Maybe not, but at nine, what do you know?
If I had to think who were the most influential people in my childhood, they would all be fictional people. And the top three would be Roberta from Now and Then, Cher Horowitz from Clueless and Rose DeWitt Bukater from Titanic. All three of these movies came out between '95 and '97 when I was 8 and 10, respectively, and at my most impressionable. Not surprisingly, I was an extremely shy child. But I found it easier to come out of my shell when I was able to pretend I was someone else. Being myself was too awkward and vulnerable, I would rather be someone that already came with a well-shaped personality. I was in 3rd grade when I first saw Clueless. Cher was like that older sister who was really popular and wore cute clothes and that's what I wanted to be. I remember buying feather-topped pencils from Claire's and searching every Mervyn's for knee-high socks (to no avail, but probably for the best) and always wearing a tiny backpack. I never tried setting any of my teachers up, but pretending to have Cher's confidence and sense of style helped me get through that year.
I was in 4th grade when I first rented Now and Then from the local grocery store. It was everything. I made my mom rent it for me every single time we went to the store. It was about a group of girls who were close to my age, did exciting, adventurous things, and lived in 1970. Not only was I obsessed with the 60s as a child (The Beach Boys was my first cassette tape), I was also quite the tomboy, always playing with the neighborhood boys growing up. I gravitated to Roberta immediately. She was strong and tough and didn't take crap from anyone. I started wearing knee-length jean shorts and Keds without socks and carried a picture of my very-alive mother in my back pocket. I rode my bike everywhere and sass-mouthed boys. It was refreshing and empowering and I basked in the persona Roberta helped me create.
Then when I was 10, Titanic came out. I was obsessed. Rose isn't that different than Roberta. She's a strong, resilient woman who didn't take crap from guys. She just did it in pretty dresses. I wanted to be as elegant and self-assured as Rose was. So I pulled out my fanciest dress from my closet, it was floor-length with daisies on it and I wore it with my white patent leather one-inch Payless heels. I would just wear it around my house, imagining myself to be Rose in her luxurious cabin aboard the Titanic, but it gave my life an air of elegance and prestige that it didn't have otherwise.
I stopped trying to be other people when I was around 13. Which is probably around the time my life started to fall apart. Joking, of course (my life didn't start falling apart until I was 18), but it did become increasingly harder to cope with things as myself than it was to hide behind the persona of another person. I always liked who I was in my teens, but I have to acknowledge that the people I tried being like in my childhood probably had a part in shaping my personality later on. Just like you start to become like the people you hang around the most, these characters were who I spent a lot of my time with. And they helped me get from where I was to where I wanted to be.
I think it was Oscar Wilde who said be yourself, everyone else is already taken. Which is good advice because it's true. But it doesn't hurt to try to take a piece of something you admire about someone and emulate it in your own life as long as you don't lose yourself in the process. After all, aren't we all just beings made up of small pieces of everyone we've ever met? Til this day I still find myself looking at others that I admire and asking myself what they would do in particular situations, except now instead of it being Rose or Roberta, it's people like Irene Opdyke and Corrie Ten Boom. People who were not only real but strong, caring and humble. People I want to be like, to take a small piece of, not because of the clothes they wear but because of the characteristics they possess. Because we're never really done evolving or adding new pieces to ourselves, at least I'm not, nor do I want to be. And while I have no desire in being anyone other than myself, it's inevitable that the people you surround yourself with will rub off on you, good or bad, so it's vital to be around people that will help you become the person you want to be, and will lead by example. The most important thing I've learned from all of this, and can pass on to you, is to be sure to choose your friends and movies wisely, for that is what you will become.