The Big Bad Lie or Why I Love What Not To Wear

In this life there are many ways to put you last. It’s especially easy when you are working, when you’re a wife and, the topper, when you are a mom.

I remember the days when I prayed, “Please, God. Give me the dream where I am Nurse Hathaway. Please.”

I remember fondly those days when my agenda, my priorities were the only ones on the docket. The days when those dreams, pursuits and innocuous delusions were superseded only by my own laziness; when I chose staying home, eating ice cream and watching ER over going to the gym. What lovely decisions those were, choosing between me or me. Sigh.

These days, the choices are much more complex. Log off from work an hour early to help Mr. Bailey write a cover letter for a job he’s applying for or slog through another hour just to try to get ahead for tomorrow? Continue to ignore World War III over the Barbie’s in Secondo’s room while I start dinner or hang laundry?

Most times, the choices don’t even involve what I would like to do.

Like most moms I know, we feel this is an OK way to live. Right now, our lives are supposed to revolve around our kids, our family, building a solid career, right?

That’s where one of my favorite televisions shows comes in. I’ve been watching What Not

Clinton and Stacy look judge-y here, but they’re really kind folk focused on busting the Big Bad Lie.
Photograph by Brian Doben, TLC Image, 6/4/07

to Wear pretty religiously since it first came on the air. If you’ve never seen it: the show’s premise is this. Family and friends (not frenemies, because these women really do deserve it and need the help) nominate a horrible dresser who has most times deluded herself into believing her shabby, worn, decades-old clothing is visible to no one but her, to win a surprise $5,000 shopping spree in New York City. She gets to shop, to have her makeup professionally done and her hair expertly cut and colored. All her old clothing gets tossed. And what she buys has to be what stylists Stacy London and Clinton Kelly advise her to purchase, according to their rules. In short, for a whole week, the nominee or “contributor,” as Stacy and Clinton refer to them, are utterly forced to focus on themselves.

I first started watching it to get fashion tips. (And it totally affected my style, by the way, thanks Stacy and Clinton!) Then I watched it to feel better about myself – these women were in most cases quite hopeless and/or homely.

What more could Mrs. Bailey say?

Then I watched it just for the hairstyling.

After awhile (yes, it took Mrs. Bailey that long) I noticed a trend.

Each contributor would sheepishly come onto the show with her crappy clothes in hand. At first, she would be embarrassed, then confused, then, in some cases, full of bravado. But ultimately, each one would break down. Genuine tears and confessions ensue.

They admit, in one way or another, in one episode after another, they do not feel themselves worthy of the time, effort, energy – investment – in themselves. They are being martyrs, sure, but most are unaware of that. In some cases, it seems obvious someone once told them they were not pretty, and they have believed the lie ever since.

In some cases, the contributors used to take pride in themselves, but a blow from life struck them way off course and they haven’t been able to recover. There are abusive husbands and boyfriends or years of caring for ailing loved ones. Week after week, there are the women – formally educated and urban, smart, sassy and rural – who have believed the lie that they were not worth it.

Photos of their families usually reveal well-kept adorable children. Profiles reveal careers on the rise. Video montages feature breast cancer survivors, first responders, successful actresses. There are many, many women who have given up, not on some societal standard of feminine beauty (that’s another blog entry) but on themselves.

Now I’ve realized this trend, it enrages me.

I turn to Prima (who’s also watched for longer than I would care to admit) and Secondo in the moments after those tearful revelations and practically yell at them, “GIRLS! DO NOT

Modern Mary admonishes: “Ladies, tell each other, ‘you are worth it!'”

give in to the thought that you are not worth it!” or “GIRLS! DO NOT let anyone ever tell you you are not worthy!” or “GIRLS! You are always worth it!”

They look at their nutso mother in those moments as I turn back to the television screen muttering angrily and believe I am truly crazy.

I am. It’s a notion that makes me crazy. And I hope that somewhere, deep inside their hearts and heads they see what I see and they take what I say to heart.

As women/mothers/wives/sisters/friends/executives/freelancers/employees we are worth our own attention, our own time.

It’s a lesson that must be first believed to be lived.