“It’s no surprise to me I am my own worst enemy/ ‘Cause every now and then I kick the living sh!t out of me…” –Lit, “My Own Worst Enemy”
There is a trend in music that has caught my attention lately. I didn’t think much of it at first, but now I am struck, saddened, uplifted and fascinated by it when I listen to the radio.
Artists are pleading, challenging, and encouraging their listeners to see themselves as worthy, as beautiful, as lovable.
I noticed it first in Bruno Mars’ sweet “Just the Way You Are.” While the love song has been in heavy rotation and is tottering on the edge of overplayed, it still brings a smile to my face. But flattering love songs are nothing new. Every crooner and songbird has lauded their adored, extolled their beauty and charisma. The part of this song that stopped me, that was sweet in such a tragic way, was the first time I heard him sing “Yeah I know, I know/ When I compliment her/ She won’t believe me/ And, it’s so, it’s so/ Sad to think she don’t see what I see…”
The next time my ears pricked up was when Katy Perry’s “Firework” picked up air time. I am disinclined to listen to her songs, not really wanting to hear about how hot “California Girls” are or think about “Teenage Dream” intimacy, but this one was different. The first lines caught my dissatisfied attention in that eerie, unexpected way that feels invasive, like someone has dug too deep and knows too much. She sings, “You don’t have to feel like a waste of space/ You’re original, cannot be replaced/ If you only knew what the future holds… Cause baby you’re a firework/ Come on show ’em what you’re worth.” The same reassurance, same words of wisdom echo: you’re worth more than you know. You don’t see what everyone else does. You are special.
And then Pink hit the airwaves. Her cleaned up lyrics hit home the same painful, imploring message in “Pretty Pretty Please (F*ckin’ Perfect).” “You’re so mean/ When you talk/ About yourself/ You are wrong/ Change the voices/ In your head/ Make them like you/ Instead/ So complicated/ Look how big you’ll make it/ Filled with so much hatred/ Such a tired game/ It’s enough/ I’ve done all I can think of/ Chased down all my demons/ See you do same/ Pretty, pretty please/ Don’t you ever, ever feel/ Like you’re less than/ [Less than] perfect/ Pretty, pretty please/ If you ever, ever feel/ Like you’re nothing/ You [are] perfect to me.”
These singles top the charts surrounding a heartbreaking, albeit unsurprising, poll that Glamour conducted. Women are mean, catty, cruel and judgemental. They are critical and superficial. They know how to hit where it hurts and they are relentless. And all of this brutality is aimed at themselves. We berate and tear down daily, telling ourselves over and over again that we are not enough, we are not okay. It’s the scene from Mean Girls when Cady watches her new friends stand in front of the mirror after school and dissect what they see. She says, ” I used to think there was just fat and skinny. But apparently there’s lots of things that can be wrong on your body.” From early on, everything and everyone around us tells us to take a close look at our appearances. A harsh look.
This is why, I think, the songs are so poignant to me. I am one of the 97% of women who are self-haters. I know what it is to think that I am not good enough, not pretty enough, not thin enough, not tan enough, not short enough, not blond enough, not everything enough. Not enough to be beautiful, to be liked, to be loved, to be popular, to be noticed, to be acceptable. I know those thoughts, the ones that trickle down, seep in, and become a part of my being, pulsing through my vein. Those thoughts that we call “realistic,” we accept as normal, and apparently are, are stifling. They are heavy, a darkness that weighs down the light and confidence that we try to project.
The irony is that, while I may snip or gossip, my hatred is mainly turned inward. I don’t pick at the size of a stranger’s pores or their hair frizzing or their thighs or chipped nails or crooked teeth. They are just fine, pretty, acceptable. They don’t live under the microscope that I do. This is why Bruno Mars’ lyrics pierce so deep: my girl friends are gorgeous. They are funny and smart, compassionate and interesting. They are objectively beautiful. And the odds are against them. They criticize too. It breaks my heart to think that these women I love don’t see how wonderful they are, see what I see. And like Pink sings, it is an old game; self-deprecation is overrated. We’ve survived the brutality of adolescence and have come to know who we are. While that is always changing, we should be comfortable now, embrace these people we have discovered and become. We should rest easy in these bodies that have grown out of their awkward stages. And yet, at 26, I am just as self-conscious and insecure about my body as I was at 12. I am not the only one.
These songs are everywhere because they are needed. Needed by the artists who write and perform them. Needed by the young girls and boys who idolize the stars and loathe themselves. They are a small reminder that there are people who see us better than we see ourselves. There are people who want to remind us that there is beauty where we don’t see it, worth where we can’t find it. There are voices from outside our own heads, voices that do more than criticize and tear down. Sometimes we are wrong when we hate. We are myopic, but someone sees the big picture. And if you, if I, still refuse to believe these assurances, then the songs do something else. They remind us that other people feel this way too. We aren’t alone.
“Sometimes it seems like we’re all living in some kind of prison. And the crime is how much we hate ourselves. It’s good to get really dressed up once in a while. And admit the truth: that when you really look closely, people are so strange and so complicated that they’re actually…beautiful. Possibly even me.” —My So-Called Life