I’m a big fan of the singing competition television show, “The Voice.” Last week, right on the heels of my “Who Are You Dressing For?” post (that was hard for me to write and helped me to turn a powerful corner), one of the competitors on the show sang a song which cut right through to my soul. I knew the moment I heard it that I needed to write a blog post about the thoughts and emotions it evoked in me. The sentiments expressed in the song not only affect me personally, I know they also impact thousands – and likely millions – of other women worldwide.
The song is called “Try” and it’s by Colbie Caillat. The cover version was sung by the youngest competitor on “The Voice,” Reagan James, on the eve of her sixteenth birthday (watch her performance here). As she sang the song, I could tell that she felt the words deeply. Yet I –at age 48, three times her age – felt them equally as strongly, if not to a larger degree.
Trying So Hard to Fit in and Belong
The song is about the lengths to which we go to fit in and belong, especially in regards to the way we look. Here are a few excerpts of the lyrics (you can read them all here and watch the very poignant video here):
Put your make up on
Get your nails done
Curl your hair
Run the extra mile
Keep it slim
So they like you. Do they like you?
Get your shopping on,
At the mall,
Max your credit cards
You don’t have to choose,
Buy it all
So they like you. Do they like you?
Those words – and all of the other words of the song – resonate deeply with me. I have struggled with my confidence, particularly around my appearance, for as long as I can remember. I was a shy, introspective child and reached my full height of 5’10” at age 13. I’ve always stood out as a result, but I often wanted to retreat into the woodwork. Shame over adolescent weight gain and just feeling “wrong” led me to develop an eating disorder that would last over two decades.
Obsession, Pain, and Anguish
Obsession about the way I looked, as well as about my weight, has caused me immeasurable pain and anguish over the years. For my entire life, I’ve been a total perfectionist about my hair, make-up, and clothing. Even when I was in the hospital for anorexia and dangerously thin, I insisted on putting my make-up on and fixing my hair. I didn’t want anyone to see me looking less than my best. Deep down, I felt unacceptable “as is” and that I needed to go to great lengths to improve upon my image.
Around the same time that my battle with anorexia and bulimia started, my issues with compulsive shopping began. I kept thinking that if I could somehow get thin enough, wear the right clothes, and look sufficiently pretty, I would be able to fit in and feel good about myself. But no amount of weight loss or new outfits could quell the deep feelings of inadequacy that tormented me each and every day. Of course, I didn’t realize that at the time, so I kept dieting, shopping, and primping, all to very little avail.
I am so very tired of trying so hard to fit in and be liked. I’m weary of feeling like I’m not good enough, like I have to look a certain way or do certain things in order to be accepted by others – and by myself. I’m more than ready to lay down my sword and stop fighting this unwinnable battle.
You Don’t Have to Change a Single Thing
While the verses of “Try” that speak to the struggle are so familiar to me and my journey through life, what touched me the most about the song were some of the other words, like the following:
You don’t have to try so hard
You don’t have to give it all away
You just have to get up, get up, get up, get up
You don’t have to change a single thing
Wait a second,
Why should you care, what they think of you
When you’re all alone, by yourself
Do you like you? Do you like you?
I am not exaggerating at all when I tell you that I cannot hear or read those words without tears welling up in my eyes. I am exasperated at trying so hard to be something I’m not, at feeling like who I am is somehow bad or wrong. Over the years, I have gradually gained increasing self-respect and confidence and have been able to see value in myself beyond my appearance. Deep down, I know that I have worth that goes much deeper than my exterior. And though I may not be able to say that I unequivocally love myself, I do like myself now and believe that I am a good and worthy person.
On Aging, Hair, and Identity
Yet I still struggle with my appearance and the aging process has been difficult for me. I lament that I no longer have the smooth, taut, lineless face of my twenties. And no matter how hard I work out, my muscles are not as firm as they used to be and I now have a bit of extra padding around my middle. These things are not at all easy for me to deal with, but the main area in which I still try too hard is with my hair.
For most of my life, my hair was truly my “crowning glory.” It was long, thick, lustrous, and a lovely shade of auburn. Although I’ve flat-ironed it for close to twenty years, it remained strong and healthy, until about five years ago. An ill-advised straightening treatment ruined my hair and adversely affected my health. I experienced serious breathing difficulties and an unbearably sore throat, and my hair started falling out in clumps. I had to cut half of it off, as the fumes from the formaldehyde (that I didn’t know was in the treatment and which I’m apparently extremely sensitive to) were outgassing and making me sick.
Fortunately, the health issues gradually improved (although I wonder if there are lingering effects), but my hair has never been the same. It’s now much more brittle and breaks easily. It’s also almost completely grey. I get it colored every four weeks and it needs it much sooner than that. I still flat-iron it, as it’s a frizzy, bushy mess without it, but it no longer withstands the heat like it once did. Many other women would have cut it off by now, but I’m very afraid to do so.
I cling to my long hair (which really isn’t that long anymore) as if it’s my identity and like I’d be lost without it. I fear that if I let go of my hair, I won’t be attractive anymore and I’ll just look old and past my prime. Although I see beautiful women with short hair (and wrinkles, too) all the time, I somehow don’t believe the same could possibly be true for me. So I continue to hold on to something that once was great but isn’t any longer. I continue to try too hard to make something be what it is not.
From Tightly Wound to Peace and Freedom?
These are the types of worries that plague me. They may seem ridiculous to you, and even I know that they are “first-world problems.” I also know that I’m very fortunate in many, many ways. I am grateful for my blessings in life, but I cannot seem to let go of my stupid hair and appearance worries. No wonder I’ve suffered from migraines for thirty years; I’m just so tightly wound that I can’t relax and let go. But I really need to do so… My full recovery depends upon it.
Towards the end of the Colbie Caillat video, she and other women take off their make-up and one woman even removes her wig to reveal a bald head. Each of them looked relaxed, confident, and beautiful as they did those things. I found myself longing to capture those feelings and to finally be free of my self-imposed bondage.
I wonder how many of you can relate to what I’m writing here. I know I’m not alone. The fact that “Try” was such a big hit is a testament to the resonance of the lyrics among women in the United States and around the world. Many of us are tired of trying so hard and feel encouraged at the thought of not having to do so anymore. What if we really didn’t need to change a single thing? What would be possible for us as women and as people?
What if Things Could Be Different?
What if we didn’t need to keep shopping and shopping to try to measure up to society’s expectations of us? What if we didn’t need to spend an hour or more getting ready each day? What if we could relax, at least some of the time? What if we could stop caring so much about whether other people like us and just focus on liking ourselves?
I’m sure some of you have already moved past the types of concerns I wrote about above, or perhaps you were lucky enough to never have had them in the first place. I hope to be able to cross over the bridge into true freedom soon. Even the fact that I could write this post and air more of my “dirty laundry” for all to see is a testament to my willingness and readiness to change.
I’ve thought about writing these things many times before, but it took a brave 15 year-old on “The Voice” to give me the courage to take this next step. Thank you, Reagan James, and thank you, Colbie Caillat, for writing such a beautiful and inspiring song. And thanks to all of you for your support and for being witness to my growth and recovery.
If you’re reading this and find that you’re still trying too hard, perhaps my words will give you some courage to break free from that bondage. I don’t know you personally, but I do know one thing. You are good enough, and so am I. With that, I’ll close with the final words of “Try”:
Take your make up off
Let your hair down
Take a breath
Look into the mirror, at yourself
Don’t you like you?
Cause I like you
With love and wishes for strength, Debbie