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I’ve always been a people pleaser, which is not ideal for someone with severe hearing loss. When I was younger and still unsure of how to handle it, I would often get into situations in which I would pretend I was hearing everything just fine because I didn’t want to make waves. Unsurprisingly, this never turned out well for me.
When I was failing seventh grade algebra, my teacher set me up with a student tutor who mumbled so quietly that I never caught a single word. I didn’t complain about the situation. I simply agonized privately as I dutifully showed up to tutoring and failed every math test that year.
Being a people pleaser isn’t ideal if you want to be a writer, either -- or any sort of creator. Even if you don’t write for the Internet, everything is picked apart by the hypercritical telescope of Internet anonymity these days. I do write for the Internet, about fashion and beauty (you may have seen me over on xoVain), among other things.
I love it. I enjoy the instant feedback from readers, the connections I’m able to make with strangers, the freedom I’m given to be creative and sometimes a little weird. That said, sometimes there are downsides, and the most recent one is that I’m struggling to enjoy one of my favorite online pastimes: the reading of celebrity fashion blogs.
Let me back up and explain. It had been a rough week. My car broke down, I was passed over for a job opportunity, and, worst of all, people on the Internet didn’t like something that I wrote. There is nothing worse for a serial people pleaser with a huge but fragile ego than to have something shunned by a large group of people with a collective “Ew, no.” Of course, it wasn’t the first time and it won’t be the last. I shrugged it off as I usually do and went blithely on with my life -- or so I thought.
Later that week I was on one of my favorite celebrity fashion blogs when my insecurities manifested themselves in a pretty weird way. They had posted a picture of Lena Dunham in her bright yellow Zac Posen dress at the Golden Globes. She looked so confident and happy. You could tell she really loved the dress and felt good about how she looked in it. I was happy for her because she often gets a lot of flack for the way she dresses (and pretty much everything she does), and I thought she looked great.
Then I actually read the post. In between photos of Dunham posing and smiling, there were scathing condemnations of her hair, her dress, and her makeup. Then I scrolled down to the comments, and they were just as bad, if not worse. Hundreds of people were decrying everything about her, from her teeth to her tattoos.
I was also surprised (although I shouldn’t be by now) of how many people were making assumptions about her personality and intentions, as if they knew anything about her. Opinion varied on whether she picked this dress to “prove a point” about a. how little she cares about fashion, b. how she can rub our faces in the fact that she can do whatever she wants or c. that women of a certain shape or size can’t or don’t have to look nice.
I was so overwhelmed by all of this heated criticism -- that wasn’t even directed at me -- that tears actually sprang to my eyes. I don’t even know Lena Dunham, and I seriously doubt that she spends her free time reading Internet comments about herself, but I still felt a fierce need to rush to her house and rip her laptop out of her hands and throw it through a window. Instead I closed my own laptop and told myself to pull it together.
Still, it kept happening. One by one, my favorite celebs stumbled and fell under the wrathful eye of bloggers and Internet commenters: Kerry Washington with her pregnancy crop top, Claire Danes in an admittedly not-great Dior dress, and even sweet, sweet Kiernan Shipka got a slap on the wrist for what I thought was a pretty cute Tory Burch ensemble.
I felt a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach every time I saw an actress wearing a dress that I knew everybody was going to very vocally hate. I can’t even think about Paula Patton looking so happy onstage at the Golden Globes in her ruffled vagina dress without cringing.
I couldn’t stop picturing these women waking up the next day and seeing a blog or a TV program tear apart their dress. They would see the pictures of themselves through the eyes of the rest of the world, and last night’s smile would slide right off as they suddenly felt foolish.
For days I was unmoored, wandering around thinking, “What DO you do when everyone unanimously hates you or something you did?” Do you stop creating? Do you change the way you dress or the way you write or the things you like to satisfy your audience?
I stayed away from my favorite red carpet blogs for a week. It was for the best. The last thing I needed was to have to explain to my boyfriend that I was too depressed to go out because labyrinth573 called Lena Dunham fat. It seems silly and trivial but the fear of being criticized or ridiculed crept into every little aspect of my life. How could anybody have the courage to wear a dress that people might laugh at, to put on lipstick that might smear on your teeth for the world to see, to create a movie or a single Tweet?
Of course, in the end I realized that it wasn’t about Lena Dunham or snarky bloggers. It was about me (gasp!) and my own inability to come to terms with the fact that if I wanted to create things and get attention for them, criticism -- constructive or not -- was going to be a regular part of my life. People always say that you have to make things for yourself, not others. My mom in particular is fond of saying that you can’t please everyone. (She would know; she has eight children.)
I used to say these things, too, without ever really thinking about what they meant, because it’s easy when you’ve never received criticism for your work. Now that I have, I’m grateful because I feel like I unlocked a secret. In the end all you can do is put your head down, do the best work you can do and make choices that you feel comfortable sticking by. Then stick by them. It’s okay to accept constructive criticism and change for the better but you can’t spend your whole life worrying about feedback from people you’ve never met.
I’ll admit that it’s absurd that it took me this long to first realize this and then accept it. In the end I owe this epiphany to Lena Dunham and her yellow dress. Thanks, Lena, and I thought you looked awesome, not that it should matter to you at all.
Kelly secretly still wants to be universally adored so please follow her on Twitter: @picturesqueliar.